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Parents' lies crushed our world, say sons of 'dead' canoeist

The sons of John Darwin, the canoeist who faked his own death, faced their mother in court yesterday, saying she betrayed them with elaborate lies about their father's apparent demise.

Anne Darwin, 56, wept in the dock at Teesside Crown Court as she heard her sons Mark, 32, and Anthony, 29, describe the impact that the couple's scheme, concocted as a means to fraudulently claim £250,000 in insurance payouts, had on them.

Neither son made eye contact with his mother as Mark told how his "world was crushed" on learning that his father had died in a canoeing accident off the coast of Hartlepool in 2002.

But he explained how that hurt turned to anger when he saw a photo of his parents in Panama on the internet at the time his father was supposedly dead. He realised his father's death was a scheme to defraud insurance companies and that his mother knew he had been alive the entire time.

"I couldn't believe the fact she'd known he was alive all this time and I had been lied to for God knows how long," he said.

His brother Anthony, from Basingstoke, Hampshire, said that initially he had thought the photograph was a fake and only realised it was genuine when he read a newspaper article with his mother's admission that the image was real.

Asked how he felt upon realising this, Anthony scratched his head, replying simply: "Upset, betrayed, I don't know."

The jury was told that Anthony was on holiday in Canada in March 2002, where he was planning to propose to his girlfriend, Louise, when he was called to say his father had gone missing.

He cut the trip short and returned to his mother's home in Seaton Carew, near Hartlepool where he said he found her "crying and shaking".

Anthony had been telephoned by Mark, but the older brother said he couldn't bear to break the news of their father's death to his sibling. Mark told the court: "I dialled the number, but I couldn't speak to him. I had to hand the phone to my aunt. I couldn't sum up the words to tell him my dad had gone missing."

Asked about his mother's reaction to her husband's death, Mark said: "She flung her arms around me; she said 'He's gone I think. I have lost him'. She wouldn't stop crying for ages."

In the weeks that followed Mark said his mother was "distraught" and couldn't eat, sleep or drink. "She wandered around the house in a daze like the rest of us," he said. Meanwhile, Anthony revealed he had tirelessly searched the internet for information about people missing at sea and contacted the missing persons register. "I knew the police would be doing these things," he said. "But it was a way of me doing something."

It wasn't until late last year that, while at a wedding, Mark was telephoned by police to say his father had walked into a police station. He said he then telephoned his mother who was in Panama and she kept up the pretence that she had known nothing of her husband's whereabouts.

Mark recalled: "I rambled for 10 minutes and explained my dad had turned up. She sounded really shocked that he had turned up after all these years."

Anthony said that upon hearing that his father was alive after five and a half years he felt "disbelief and anger" because he originally thought it was someone pretending to be Mr Darwin. When he saw him at the police station he felt "surprised, amazed, still almost disbelieving."

Earlier Andrew Robertson QC, for the prosecution, finished his opening submission by telling the jury that Mrs Darwin was "no shrinking violet" but a woman who wove a web of lies in order to play a positive role in a scheme which would see her and her husband claim £250,000 to fund an "idyllic life together" in Panama.

Mrs Darwin has denied six counts of fraud and nine counts of money laundering. She is using a defence of marital coercion which effectively means she does not dispute making the fraudulent claims; merely that she was forced into it by her husband. Mr Darwin has admitted deception and will be sentenced later.