Canoe Man cop says John Darwin made one fatal error before claiming amnesia


The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe was inspired by a book of the same name, co-written by Tony Hutchinson, a former Cleveland detective who investigated the Darwins

John and Anne Darwin in the crucial photo that nailed the couple

A new TV drama tells the story of canoe conman John Darwin, who faked his death at sea.

His insurance scam, aided by wife Anne, raked in up to £500,000 but it meant telling their two sons their dad was dead.

The couple from Seaton Carew, Co Durham, moved to Panama but a photo of them with an estate agent blew their cover and they were jailed for fraud.

Sunday night’s dramatisation, The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe, stars Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan. It starts at 9pm and runs for four consecutive nights.

The series was inspired by a book of the same name, co-written by Tony Hutchinson, a former Cleveland detective who investigated the Darwins.

Here is his verdict on the sensational case…

Cleveland Police’s Detective Superintendent Tony Hutchinson



John Darwin may have escaped justice if he had not given himself up 15 years ago.

Just as Ronnie Biggs could not be extradited from Brazil for his part in the Great Train Robbery, Darwin would probably never have been arrested if he had just stayed in Panama.

My colleague Gary Dolan had opened a cold case review and was re-examining the evidence when Darwin walked into a London police station in December 2007.

But there was no extradition treaty between the UK and Panama – unless you were wanted for murder.

If he had not flown home to stage his resurrection, the infamous photo of him and Anne in the estate agent’s office would probably never have emerged.

To say he was coming home because he wanted to see his boys again was a complete lie: he really didn’t give a flying fig.

Former murder squad chief Tony Hutchinson wrote the book that inspired the ITV series



John Darwin’s disguised photograph when he used the alias of John Jones



If he wanted to be part of their lives again, as he claimed, how come he is now living in Manila and has not even seen his grandchildren? He now has four. It was definitely a visa issue which brought him back.

He presented himself as being disoriented, confused as to why Christmas decorations were everywhere; he tried to pretend that he thought it was June, not December, in London.

His amnesia act had begun. Not for one minute did I believe it: five years, a death certificate, multiple pay-outs, all distilled down to amnesia.

When I took over the investigation on December 5, there were many unanswered questions: Where had he been living? And who with? What had he done for money?

There was plenty to unravel. I remembered him going missing in March 2002. I lived in Seaton Carew and, like all coastal communities, when someone goes missing at sea, everybody talks about it.

Eddie Marsan as John Darwin



A huge rescue operation took place, people risking their lives on the North Sea in the dark, searching for someone who was holed up in a B&B in Cumbria. Fast-forward five and a half years and here he was claiming memory loss. I did not believe it but decided to leave him in the care of his sons.

Hours later, a woman rang about 7pm to say she had found the now infamous photograph on the internet. I laughed out loud when I saw it. Darwin’s amnesia was blown.

We moved quickly to arrest him. I wanted him in custody before that photo appeared in the papers. If we knew, they knew.

CCTV of when John Darwin was taken into custody



He was taken into custody that evening. The following morning the headline in the Daily Mirror was: “Canoe’s this in Panama?”

I doubt John and Anne gave a second thought to smiling with the estate agent in his office for that photo. Back in 2006 few realized just how much the internet would change the world.

I am convinced he thought he was intellectually superior and would easily hoodwink the police.

I found him arrogant, even irritating, but we allowed him to tell his lies before showing him the photograph.

One thing is certain, the narcissist that is John Darwin only ever cared about himself.

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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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