John and Anne Darwin’s sons now – Disowning, pain and split forgiveness


There is no doubt that the biggest victims of John and Anne Darwin’s fraudulent scheme were their two sons.

John faked his own death in a canoe accident back in 2002, while his former wife Anne played the part of the grieving widow and claimed his £250,000 life insurance policy.

Lying to both the police and friends is one thing, but the couple led their own heartbroken sons to believe that their father was dead for five years, The Mirror reports.

Anthony and Mark Darwin played no part in the appalling plot and were instead comforting their mother, while their ‘dead’ dad was actually just mere meters away in the house next door to the family home.



John and Anne Darwin with their sons Mark and Anthony

They suffered agonizing pain when they discovered the truth, disowning their parents and even testifying against them in court.

“We don’t want to see them. Ever,” they said, but over the last few years there has been the most unlikely of reconciliation – but the brothers have different views.

One of the brothers even snuck onto the set of new ITV drama The Thief, his Wife and the Canoe in a disguise, so what is their relationship with their parents like now?

Mark first discovered that his father was missing when his uncle Michael phoned him at work – then he returned to Seaton Carew in Country Durham to support his mother.

He later said nothing seemed amiss, stating his mother didn’t crack once and “played the role of heartbroken wife perfectly.”

A massive search began and when coastguards found nothing, Mark started to think that his father had suffered an angina attack and feared he had died alone.

In scenes that have been recreated almost identically for the ITV drama, Mark and Anthony stood protectively on either side of their mother Anne.

The three gazed out at the North Sea before weeping Anne threw a wreath of red roses into the choppy waters where John had supposedly perished.

Back home, Anne laid out a selection of her ‘late’ husband’s belongings for their sons to choose as mementoes.

“I fingered my father’s watch, his onyx cufflinks, memories engulfing me as I touched them,” said Mark of that day in 2004. “And then I remember breaking down.”



Monica Dolan, Mark Stanley and Dominic Applewhite recreating the scene for the ITV drama
Monica Dolan, Mark Stanley and Dominic Applewhite recreating the scene for the ITV drama

Anne would later reveal they she contemplated taking her own life because the strain of lying about John’s ‘death’ had become too much – but decided against it because of her sons.

Speaking at Teesside Crown Court in July 2008, she said: “I ran out of the house and I crossed the road to the sea and I sat on the beach looking at the sea. I wished that John had drowned at sea.

“I considered walking into the sea. I got so desperate but I couldn’t do it because of the effect it would have on the rest of the family, particularly Mark and Anthony, and I didn’t have the courage so I calmed myself down and went back.”

For years the couple used their ill-gotten gains to fly around the world in a bid to start a new life and purchased a £200,000 tropical estate in a village in Panama in May 2007.

However, a change in Panama’s visa laws meant John would need to come home and he walked straight into a police station claiming he had amnesia.

When a photo emerged of the pair in Panama and the truth was exposed, Mark said he was full of “bitterness and fury” and him and Anthony cut all ties with their parents.

“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.” I told the Daily Mail in 2018.



Mark Darwin (right) and Anthony Darwin leave Teesside Crown Court after giving evidence against their mother Anne in 2008
Mark Darwin (right) and Anthony Darwin leave Teesside Crown Court after giving evidence against their mother Anne in 2008

The boys were quizzed by police for more than four hours but were cleared of any involvement in John’s disappearance.

“There is nothing to suggest they are anything other than witnesses and of course victims in the case,” the police said.

John was sentenced to six years and three months in prison for admitting deception by faking his own death, while Anne received six-and-a-half years behind bars for fraud.

“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’,” Anne explained to The Guardian.

“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.”

Mark did decide to visit his mother in Low Newton Prison just after his trial, but their first encounter was short, stiff and formal.

However, they started to build bridges over subsequent visits and when Anne was released from prison in March 2011 after serving half of her sentence – two months after John left prison.

In 2018, Mark announced he had finally forgiven his mum but would certainly not trust his parents with financial matters.



Anthony and Mark have both been in contact with their mother
Anthony and Mark have both been in contact with their mother

Mark said: “I have forgiven her, to some degree, but I will never understand. Nor forget. I’ve even got over, to some extent, the gnawing need to know why. Why do it to us? Nothing can describe the kick in the teeth I felt when I discovered she had been in on the entire thing

The Darwins’ son explained that every bit of information he learned was only through the media or at the trial – and it was only on the first day of the court case that he realized Anne was in on the scheme from the start.

Mark, who lives in Hertfordshire with wife Flick and their two sons, said he could never do to his kids what his mother did to him but invited her on a family holiday to Spain.

He has been in contact with his father and when asked if he could ever forgive him, he simply replied: “Perhaps.”

Continuing, he added: “But at least I have my family,’ again he pauses, ‘not intact, never again intact. But they are present. They are alive. Do I feel the same about them? No. No, I don ‘t. But the love is there. It’s just… different. I love my mother. Just not in that childhood, all-encompassing way. Do I trust them? Yes, I do, but only in so far as it wouldn’t adversely affect me.”

Meanwhile, Anthony has been less forgiving as he still refuses to speak to John and is more distanced from his mother than Mark.

David Leigh, the journalist who exposed John, explained the canoe man claimed one of the reasons he came back from Panama was to see his sons, but hasn’t stayed true to his word.

His parents since divorced and John is now living in the Philippines with a much younger new wife, who is somewhat ironically named Mercy.



Mark Stanley as Mark Darwin in the ITV drama, The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe
Mark Stanley as Mark Darwin in the ITV drama, The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe

Speaking on This Morning this week, David said: “I think he’s in Manila and I think he keeps in touch with one of them but the other one has completely disowned him and he doesn’t seem to care you know, and it’s completely the opposite with Anne.

“Anne now has both boys back in her life, she has her four grandchildren and she lives a very quiet and anonymous existence.”

One of the sons actually managed to sneak onto the set of The Thief, his Wife and the Canoe for the day in a disguise.

Eddie Marsan, who is playing John in the four-part drama, said: “We had no idea until a few weeks later. He had come in with a baseball cap and a Covid mask on to watch. We didn’t get any feedback .”

Viewers will see son Mark, played by actor Mark Stanley, visiting his dad with a copy of the Mirror.

Speaking about John’s narcissism, Eddie explained: “You can see it in the way he treated his sons. Before he faked his own death, he said, ‘my sons will get over it in a few weeks’.

“He had a very difficult relationship with his dad. He wasn’t that emotionally attached to his father, so he didn’t realize his sons would be that attached to him.

“Narcissists think everyone is like them. John lacked empathy. When he actually listened to his sons’ grief, he was shocked by it.”



John Darwin faked his own death
John Darwin faked his own death



Anne Darwin was part of the plot
Anne Darwin was part of the plot

The series’ Executive Producer, David Nath, has spoken about Anne’s relationship with her sons.

“This is a story about what made Anne go along with this plan. It also explores how you recover from it,” said David.

“The profound and terrible nature of her betrayal of her children was very hard to repair, and yet incredibly her sons have rebuilt their relationship with their mother. It’s an extraordinary act of forgiveness.”

While writer Chris Lang wanted to convey how Anne was controlled by her husband for decades, but didn’t want to underplay the crimes she committed.

He explains: “We owed it to the sons, the real victims of John and Anne’s crimes, to be truthful. I can’t imagine a greater betrayal than a mum telling you your dad is dead when she knows he is actually still alive.

“Pretending to be grieving for five years, allowing them to grieve for five years – what would possess a mother to do that? It seems unthinkable to any parent.”

The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe is on ITV at 9pm from Easter Sunday to Wednesday 20th April.

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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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