John and Anne Darwin were each jailed for more than six years today for carrying out a £250,000 con by faking his death in a canoeing accident.
The 56-year-old wife was convicted by a jury at Teesside Crown Court of six counts of fraud and nine of money laundering today, while the husband admitted fraud at an earlier hearing.
Anne Darwin received six and a half years in jail. Her husband got six years and three months.
The couple tricked the police, insurance companies and even their two sons Mark (32) and Anthony (29) into believing he drowned in the North Sea in 2002 — only for Mr Darwin to turn up at a London police station last year.
They were undone by a photograph of the grinning couple taken in Panama four years after he disappeared.
Anne Darwin had claimed her “domineering” husband forced her to go through with the plan to con insurance and pension companies by faking his death at sea.
But the jury at Teesside Crown Court rejected her defence of “marital coercion” which was undermined when the prosecution produced emails they sent each other.
The court heard how the couple were hurtling towards bankruptcy when the plan was hatched.
They were at risk of losing their 12-home property portfolio when Mr Darwin paddled in the sea in his home-made canoe within sight of their large seafront house in Seaton Carew, Teesside.
His wife told the jury she picked him up from the beach, and helped him flee inland, then raised the alarm telling the emergency services he was lost at sea.
She tearfully broke the news to sons Mark (32) and Anthony (29), in the following days. Mark told the jury losing his father “crushed” his world, while Anthony had to break short a trip to Canada during which he was to propose to his girlfriend.
Their father (57) lived in secret in one of the bedsits in the property the couple owned next door and got a passport in the name of John Jones.
Having righted their finances, they planned to settle in Panama and last year bought land on which they planned to run an eco-tourism canoeing centre.
But Mr Darwin unexpectedly returned to the UK in November, and handed himself in to a London police station, claiming to have amnesia.
His sons could not believe he was alive at first.
Their mother told a journalist she was also shocked. But her story crumbled when a photo of the couple taken in 2006 emerged, the court was told.
Mark Darwin expressed his anger, saying: “I couldn’t believe the fact she knew he was alive all this time and I had been lied to for God knows how long.”
She returned to the UK and was charged with fraud and money laundering, which she denied. Her husband admitted the offences, and a charge of dishonestly obtaining a passport.