Anne Darwin now – life after canoe man, new beginnings and sons’ forgiveness


Canoe fraudster Anne Darwin’s life now is very different to the exotic time she and her husband John spent in Panama.

Anne was working as a receptionist at a GP surgery when she became embroiled in the huge scandal which is now the subject of ITV show The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe.

She helped her former partner to fake his own death in a ‘canoe accident’ in 2002 and was sentenced to more than six years in a maximum security prison.

She had pretended to grieve as she picked up John’s £250,000 life insurance policy, and lied to everyone around her – even her own sons.



John Darwin with his wife Anne in Panama in July 2006

John, realizing he had to renew visas for them to live in Panama, had walked into a police station pretending he had ‘amnesia’, but when a photo emerged of the couple in a Panama estate agents, the game was up.

The pair divorced in prison and John now lives in Southeast Asia with his younger wife while Anne has remained in Britain.

She had tried to rebuild her life here and ask for forgiveness from her two sons.

John had decided to fake dying after the couple encountered some financial issues, and thought their life insurance policy would help them.

In March 2002, he paddled in his canoe from Seaton Carew beach near Hartlepool and was never seen again, according to Anne, who reported him missing.



Anne Darwin in 2008
Anne Darwin in 2008 lives a different life now to that of her ex husband

She got £250,000 in life insurance and John secretly lived next door in a bedsit which had a hidden door behind a wardrobe which led into the couple’s bedroom.

Anne told The Guardian in 2016: “John could also be persuasive. He told me, ‘I’ll only need to vanish for a couple of weeks and we’ll have the money.’ It got out of control.

“The deeper you get into these situations, the harder it is to get out. If I had any inkling it would have lasted more than a few weeks, there’s no way I could have gone along with it and put myself through years of torture. But once it was done, and he got me to lie that he’d disappeared, I couldn’t get out of it.”



A recreation of the photo with Monica Dolan as Anne Darwin, Eddie Marsan as John Darwin and Jorge Albuquerque as Mario Vilar, in the ITV drama, The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe.

The pair bought a £200,000 tropical estate in Panama in May 2007, but then John realized he needed to renew his visa and presented himself at a police station – with his amnesia excuse

Anne told This Morning in 2016: “He was convinced he would get away with this story of amnesia, I never expected him to get away with it. I was just relieved the lies would be over.

“I am dreadfully ashamed of that, I should never have done it. I didn’t have the confidence to stand up against John.”

Our sister paper The Mirror found a photo of them in an estate agent’s office in Panama and printed it with the headline ‘Canoe’s this in Panama?’.



Anne and husband John and sons Mark and Anthony at a family wedding in 1997

John got six years and three months in prison for deception and Anne got six-and-a-half years behind bars for fraud.

Anne said: “I was given no indication that the sentence would be that long. It came as a shock. Yes, I committed the crime and I deserved to be punished. I wasn’t prepared for that at all.”

Anne went to HM Prison Low Newton where serial killer Rose West was also staying, and got out in March 2011 after half of her sentence – two months after John left..

Anne ended their marriage although John had wanted to rekindle things.

Letters to his pen pal Lorraine Forbes, 43, where he wrote he was wanting sex, didn’t go down well with Anne.

At one point, unwilling to let go John sent Anne a photograph of herself with a copyright brand on it, suggesting perhaps that she belonged to him..

John cited “unreasonable behaviour” in their divorce – and then married Filipina bride Merc, 23 years his junior.



Monica Dolan as Anne Darwin, Eddie Marsan as John Darwin in The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe

The couple’s sons Anthony and Mark, said they wanted nothing to do with their parents at the time,

Anne told The Guardian: “After the truth came out that we’d been living in Panama together, I continually wrote to Mark and Anthony to say, ‘I am so sorry. I really do love you.”

“But they refused to see or talk to me. The first time I set eyes on them [afterwards] was at my trial when Mark was the first to testify against me. After he left the witness box, he only lifted his eyes floatingly to meet mine. I was totally shocked by how dark and full of anger they were. To see that was absolutely horrendous.”

After nine years Mark who said he was in “indescribable pain” has now forgiven his mother.

Mark said: “It was a cruel act of betrayal that no parent should ever inflict on their children – the pain and suffering it caused me and my brother is indescribable. The horror of the discovery, my sheer fury and what they put me though, is something that will taint my life forever.”

He continued: “I have forgiven her, to some degree, but I will never understand, nor forget.”

Anne also now speaks with Anthony and sees her four grandkids, who are oblivious to her notoriety.

She works with the RSPCA now and live in a village outside of York and proceeds from her book Out of My Depth, have gone to the RNLI and the RSPCA.

She told This Morning in 2016: “I came through that [depression in prison] with help and I’ve managed to turn my life around. I made the best of the opportunity that I could with all that was on offer in prison as far as education. I equipped myself with up-to-date qualifications so I could find a job and give myself the best chance to start a new life.”

Last month, she was found in a village near Middlesbrough and according to The Daily Mail, uses her maiden name.

She wouldn’t talk about the new ITV drama.

A neighbor said: “We simply know her as Anne. She is very quiet but friendly. She has never mentioned what she did, but then why should she.

“I do remember the whole canoe story. It’s quite amusing that she is living here, but I suppose it was a long time ago and she is just getting on with her life.”

The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe is on ITV until Wednesday April 20

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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