Property crash hits pay back by canoe fraudster

Prosecutors have recovered more than £500,000 from the wife of back-from-the-dead canoeist John Darwin.

Darwin, 61, faked his own death in a canoeing accident in 2002 so his wife Anne, 60, could claim hundreds of thousands of pounds from insurance policies and pension schemes which were operated in his name.

The couple, from Seaton Carew, near Hartlepool, were jailed at Teesside Crown Court in 2008 for the swindle, which deceived the police, a coroner, financial institutions and even their sons Mark and Anthony.

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A confiscation hearing in 2009 was told that the Darwins benefited to the sum of £679,194.62 from the fraud, but at that time their realisable assets amounted to just under £592,000.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has now revealed it has since recovered a total of £501,641.39 from the assets that Mrs Darwin held as a result of the scam.

This figure is lower because the value of property she owned in Panama has fallen as a result of the global economic crisis.

The money will now be repaid to the insurance companies and pension funds that were defrauded.

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A CPS’s north-east complex casework unit, said: “It has taken some time to sell the property in Panama but we are extremely pleased to have got through the very complex process of recovering this money from overseas.

“It is important that fraudsters see that not only will we prosecute them wherever possible, but we will also make every effort to retrieve their ill-gotten gains to return them to those they have defrauded.”

The Darwins, who were both released from prison last year, hatched the scam when they faced losing their property portfolio.

Former prison officer Darwin paddled into the sea off Seaton Carew in a home-made canoe and disappeared in March 2002, leaving his wife to raise the alarm.

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He later returned to their home and lived a secret life in a bedsit the couple owned next door to the family home.

Under the assumed identity John Jones, taken from a local child who died in infancy, Darwin was able to travel around the world planning a new life for himself and his wife.

The couple moved to Panama, where they bought a flat and land which they hoped to transform into a canoeing centre focusing on eco-tourism.

Then Darwin flew back to the UK and handed himself in to a central London police station in November 2007, claiming he was suffering from amnesia.

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Mrs Darwin, a former doctor’s receptionist, was tracked down in Panama and pretended to be shocked at the back-from-the-dead circumstances of her husband’s re-emergence.

But her story collapsed when a photograph was found on the internet showing the smiling couple posing in a Panama estate agent’s offices.

Darwin was jailed for six years and three months after admitting fraud.

His wife was jailed for six-and-a-half years after a trial.

The assets seized from Mrs Darwin are an apartment in Panama City worth £35,648.35, land near Lake Gatun in Panama worth £155,414.47, three bank accounts in Panama containing £152,828.13, two UK bank accounts containing £157,720.91 and bank interest totalling £29.53.

Confiscation hearings are now a routine part of the criminal courts process, aimed at recovering assets and preventing convicted criminals from benefiting as a result of their offending