Words of 'canoe widow' came back to haunt her

"I have no reason to think he would have left and stage-managed this." Those were the words of Anne Darwin as she described the struggle to cope with the disappearance of her husband, John.

"I think John has met with an unfortunate accident in the sea and has died. That's the only way I have been able to cope with it."

As Cleveland Police press officer Charlie Westberg gently questioned Mrs Darwin six months after her husband vanished, something troubled him.

What struck Mr Westberg as he sat in the front room of Mrs Darwin's large Victorian town house in Seaton Carew, near Hartlepool, was that there were no photographs of her missing husband.

"We are not ones for photographs," he recalls Mrs Darwin saying.

How ironic then that the mystery of John Darwin's disappearance began to unravel when a woman typed "John, Anne, Panama" into the images section of internet search engine Google.

Up popped a photograph, apparently dated July 14 2006, of John and Anne Darwin taken in Panama.

The woman, who was not named, emailed the picture to Cleveland Police and the Daily Mirror, which published it on its front page the next day, beneath the headline "Canoe's this in Panama?".

Mr Westberg remembers Mrs Darwin as being very quiet and withdrawn. During the hour-long interview, he struggled to draw her out of her shell.

He also thought how difficult it must be for broken-hearted Mrs Darwin to look out at the panoramic sea view from the house's large bay windows each day and see where her husband disappeared.

Mr Westberg's press release of September 2002 painted a picture of a woman left in limbo - her life on hold until her missing husband was found either dead or alive.

A veteran former regional newspaper journalist, Mr Westberg's reporter's intuition told him something was not right about Mrs Darwin - but he could not put his finger on it.

She shunned the media, a reaction not unusual when unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight after tragedy strikes.

It was only six months after her husband vanished that she reluctantly agreed to be interviewed, but only by the police.

What Mr Westberg could not know as he sat in her living room, was that Mrs Darwin had picked up her husband from the shore when he "disappeared" in his red canoe.

Not only that, but her missing husband was safe and well, living next door, having assumed the identity of "John Jones".

No wonder she did not have any pictures on show.

Mr Westberg said: "I thought it was strange that she did not have a photograph of her husband. She just said something like 'We are not ones for photographs'.

"Now we know why, because he was probably next door the whole time."

Mr Westberg, who now works as a press officer for Durham Police, said Mrs Darwin was a reluctant interviewee.

"She was very quiet and very quietly spoken. She did not want to say much and had to be prompted to say anything," he said.

"I thought it was very sad that there she was in this very big Victorian house looking out of the window and looking out to sea where her husband disappeared."