Chickens are coming home to roost for the British couple John and Anne Darwin who staged a death drama to claim over £250 thousand in life insurance and pension payouts. They have been jailed more than six years each and their assets frozen under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
The 56-year-old wife was convicted by a jury at Teesside Crown Court of six counts of fraud and nine of money laundering Wednesday, 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 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 e-mails 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 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 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.
Police believe that, at the time the Darwins were arrested last December, their assets were worth £500,000 - the equivalent of US$1 million in Panama.
Thursday all of those assets were frozen as police started the process of getting the money back.
A key part of their assets was an apartment in Panama City, which Mrs Darwin had bought for $56,000 (£28,000). She also spent $389,789 (£198,000) on land to build a canoeing centre for tourists.
Darwin was known to have a love of large cars, and the couple drove around in a $45,000 (£23,000) Toyota Land Cruiser in Panama.
There were also two bank accounts in Panama containing $319 (£160) and $220 (£110) respectively, a Yorkshire Bank account with £2,300, two HSBC bank accounts holding £60 and £550, and two HSBC bank accounts in Jersey with $1,800 (£900) and $100 (£50).
Detective Inspector Andy Greenwood, who led the inquiry into the couple, said, "Any reasonable person who finds themselves in the Darwins' position would sell their properties to realise the debt.
"Instead they hatched this plot. Mr and Mrs Darwin liked to portray themselves as well-to-do and it was an image that they found difficult to move away from. It would have been very easy for them to put their properties up for sale."
He said police were already starting the process of getting the money back and a worldwide order is in place freezing the couple's assets.
"We will pursue them through the Proceeds of Crime Act. All of the life they have built in Panama has been on the back of criminal activity," said Greenwood.
Meanwhile, two insurance companies - Unat Direct and Norwich Union - have started legal proceedings against the couple for the sums they defrauded, reports Times Online.