IT was one of the most elaborate contras of all time – and stunned the world.
John Darwin faked his own death while ‘canoeing’ to claim £250,000 in insurance money, leaving his wife Anne to feed their sons the devastating lie that their father was dead
But five years later, the deception was shattered by an innocuous photo of the grinning couple – taken four years after John “died”.
Former science teacher and prison officer John, then 57, was jailed for six years and three months.
But Anne, then 56, was given six and a half years – a higher rate that would be unlikely today given the anti-coercion laws that have since been put in place.
Now new ITV drama The Thief, His Wife And The Canoe features her as a cowed character who has been forced into cheating.
Monica Dolan, who plays former doctor’s assistant Anne, said: “She’s been in prison a long time and there are more corporate scams where people don’t have that long.
“I think maybe she would be heard differently now, but in terms of her punishment, we as a society judge what she did as a mother.
“But maybe that’s not up to the courts, that’s for their children to judge.”
The four-part portrays John, played by Eddie Marsan, as a manipulative narcissist and deluded fantasist who would bully Anne.
He is seen on the show telling her that if they don’t commit the scam – and stave off the “humiliation” of bankruptcy after years of overspending – he will kill himself to get the money.
And as they tell lie after lie, he continues to emotionally blackmail Anne by saying that admitting her crimes would ruin the lives of her sons Mark and Anthony – played by Mark Stanley and Dominic Applewhite.
At her 2008 trial at Teesside Crown Court, Anne’s defense of marital coercion was rejected by the jury.
But after the laws introduced in 2015, it’s likely Anne now has stronger reason to suggest she was coerced.
Monica, who won a Bafta in 2011 for her role as Rose West on ITV drama Appropriate Adult, claims Anne always felt belittled by John and feared he was leaving her.
Since that was constantly hovering over her, it could easily be interpreted by the law as a forced relationship.
She said: “You have to be able to prove that there was something that scared you. What’s interesting about Anne – which I think is very complex – was her fear that he might leave her.
“It may well be nuanced as abusive.”
In March 2002, John was spotted paddling in the sea off the coast of their home in Seaton Carew, Teesside and was later reported missing.
He was officially presumed to have drowned – and Anne was then able to claim the insurance money.
John spent five years on the property he owned next to the family home, sneaking in on Anne through a secret door hidden behind a wardrobe.
The plan was that the couple would eventually start a new life in Panama after paying off their debts.
On a trip to the South American country to look at real estate, they made the mistake of having their picture taken by a real estate agent.
But John discovered it would be impossible to make the move after all, so he showed up at a London police station in December 2007 and claimed he had lost his memory.
Then the photo surfaced in Panama and it proved he was lying, so their elaborate scam unraveled.
Her two grieving sons felt betrayed by their parents.
Eddie says this new, more likable interpretation of Anne – based on books, police interviews, court transcripts and newspaper profiles – is likely to divide viewers. It even split the staff on the show.
He said: “Particularly among the female crew members, there was an intergenerational interpretation of the story.
“The older female crew members felt she should have taken on more responsibility, while the younger ones saw her as a victim.”
Although no one in the family helped the drama creators, they discovered that one of the sons came to the set in disguise and observed what was going on.
Both John and Anne were released from prison in early 2011 and divorced soon after.
John now resides in the Philippines and has nothing to do with his sons. Mark and Anthony have forgiven Anne for what happened.
For the show’s writer Chris Lang – best known for creating the ITV cold-case series Unforgotten – it was the most telling fact of the whole case.
He said: “I was really impressed by how Anne rebuilt the relationship with her sons in a way that John didn’t.
“For me it was crucial from the beginning that we should tell this story.
“We wanted to understand how good people can do bad things. So let’s try to understand her and forgive her.
“If their sons can do it, I hope we can too.”
- The Thief, His Wife And The Canoe airs on ITV next month.
https://www.thesun.co.uk/tv/18034366/canoe-man-john-darwin-anne-coerced/ Canoe Man John Darwin ‘coerced’ Ms Anne into cover-up, says actress in new drama about infamous fake death scam