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Monday, 28 March 2011

60-year-old conman returned to the spot where he faked his own death in a canoe to reflect on a £680,000 sting that ­secured his place in criminal ­notoriety alongside wife Anne.

60-year-old conman returned to the spot where he faked his own death in a canoe to reflect on a £680,000 sting that ­secured his place in criminal ­notoriety alongside wife Anne.

And he spoke of the moment nine years ago when he paddled out to his “death” from the shoreline overlooked by the huge house his family lived in.

Darwin told how he gave no thought to the ramifications of his selfish act – the grief of his two sons Mark, 35, and 32-year-old Anthony, a £100,000 search and, finally, a six-year jail sentence.

Speaking for the first time since being freed from prison after serving half his time, he claimed crippling debt had left him so desperate, the thought of suicide had crossed his mind.

Darwin said: “As I was paddling out, I thought shall I do it for blooming real.”

But he stuck to his plan and so began a shocking tale of deception and greed that gripped the nation.

Saddled with a £240,000 mortgage and debt collectors poised to swoop over a year-old credit card bill, Darwin told how his mounting problems clouded his ­judgment over the hurt he would cause his sons.

He added: “My boys had grown and moved away from home, they had lives of their own.

“I was trying to sort out a future for me and Anne. I thought it would be hard for a month or two for them, then I genuinely believed they would move on.

“I honestly thought my sons would get over it in a month or two.

“I always felt I’d tell them at some stage. But I had not considered when. Then, when it came to it, it was ­impossible. It stayed that way for years.”

STRESSED

To his neighbours in Seaton Carew, Co Durham, Darwin seemed to have it all. His 27ft lounge had a commanding view of the bay, he owned a string of 14 rented properties in the area, worked full-time as a prison officer and had a Range Rover on the drive.

But he was staring at a county court hearing over his credit card debt and his “rosy” lifestyle was about to crumble around his ears.

Darwin added: “I was asset rich, cash poor. I didn’t have that money in my pocket, it was a huge problem.

“Anne was just so stressed out. I had options, I could have smuggled drugs, telephones into prison, I could have burgled houses.

“But I realised looking at our policies that I was worth more dead than alive, and that stuck in my head.

“The way I looked at it that was the logical option.”

Desperate Anne suggested she would walk into the sea and take her own life.

Darwin said: “She said it would end all my problems. But I told her people know you can’t swim and will know it’s suicide so the insurance won’t pay out.”

So, the canoe plot was hatched. He would be “drowned” at sea, Anne would get the £680,000 from pensions and insurance companies and they could start a new life. Darwin disappeared on Sunday, March 21, 2002.

It had been stormy the night before and the North Sea swell was large enough to cause an accident in a tiny craft.

After paddling into the sea, he returned to shore where Anne was waiting to drive him to Durham railway station.

Speaking about the cost of the search mission, Darwin said: “I honestly didn’t think about that.

“I just thought the canoe I’d pushed back out to sea would be washed up and the assumption would be I was dead.” With £100 in his pocket, he headed for Cumbria and stayed in a B&B. For the next few weeks he lived in a tent on a remote beach along the Solway Firth, growing a beard, beach combing and buying essentials from a supermarket as temperatures plummeted.

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