CANOE conman John Darwin has spoken exclusively to the Mail on how his elaborate scam took him from a life of luxury to now being penniless and living on benefits in a rented house with only a sunlounger for a bed.
He revealed he is at a loss as to why his ex-wife Anne never admitted her part in the crime.
And he even believes she could have walked free if she had come clean.
The 61-year-old is now back in Seaton Carew, where he first hatched his amazing plot to fake his own death and claim life insurance.
He described how “desperate” times led him to concoct the scam, which saw him spend five years with an identity stolen from Sunderland youngster John Jones, after he pushed a canoe out to sea and never returned.
Darwin is still stunned at Anne for denying her involvement in the scam and says his sentence should have been no longer than two years.
He said: “For the amount of money which was taken, we should have served no more than two years.
“Anne denied everything, it could have all gone ahead so much quicker than it did.
“We were married for 39 years, but if she walked past me in the street now she wouldn’t even say hello.
“She isn’t living in the area now, we aren’t in contact with each other.”
When asked who came up with the original idea, he simply replied: “It takes two.”
Darwin is also bitter about being caged for so long and questioned our judicial system.
He added: “I committed a crime, yes.
“I took money from an insurance company, but I didn’t kill anyone.
“A man in prison with me committed manslaughter and got 18 months, he was out in nine.”
Darwin, who to neighbours seemed to have it all, was up to his eyes with debt and along with his wife plotted to start their lives again and travel abroad.
But in December 2007, for reasons that are still unclear, he walked into a London police station claiming to have no memory of the last five years.
Days later a picture of John and Anne with an estate agent in Panama appeared on the internet and their dream world began to collapse around them.
Darwin was released from Moorland Open Prison, South Yorkshire, halfway through his six years and three month jail sentence earlier this year, but the headlines continued.
His wife was released weeks afterwards from Askham Grange Prison, near York, after serving just over two years and eight months – half of her six-and-a-half year sentence.
Today, speaking from his two-bedroom bungalow, the former prison guard and teacher told the Mail that he had “served his time” and was delighted to be back “home” in Seaton Carew.
Standing in the kitchen surrounded by basic furnishings, John is a million miles away from the luxury he became accustomed to.
The man who once owned 14 properties and had a Range Rover complete with a private number plate parked on his drive now lives alone.
His dream failed.
His successful businessman image is long gone.
Living on benefits and renting his new home, John even revealed that he is sleeping on a sun lounger while he waits for the delivery of a new bed.
His kitchen is bare. A sitting room is home to a deck chair, but is without a television. John says he doesn’t need one.
After an early morning walk on the beach and a daily visit to the Canoe Bar, in the Staincliffe Hotel, on the seafront, John spends the majority of his time on the internet.
He says most of the column inches he reads about himself are “complete rubbish”.
He would know, he has a Google alert set up on himself which notifies him of any John Darwin-related news stories to hit the headlines.
The new life of John Darwin is a far cry from the conman lifestyle which saw him visit the United States of America on numerous occasions and initiate a dream move to Panama.
But he insists he is happy.
“I always wanted to come back here,” he says.
“I moved in at the end of July and introduced myself to the neighbours straight away.
“They were very welcoming, it’s very friendly around here.”
Despite his apparent happiness, the bitterness of the sentence remains.
Despite the ease of conversation, John refuses to talk about the day he took to the canoe and changed his life and the national perception of Seaton Carew forever.
His return and resulting court case five years later turned into a media circus.
The national interest remained after their release from prison and John says he regularly had visits from national media reporters while living with a friend in Easington Colliery.
Despite this, he claims to have had no idea the whole situation would spiral into the whirlwind it did after he strolled into the police station in the capital.
He said: “I honestly didn’t expect that.
“I had no idea when I walked into the police station that it would cause such a stir.
“I had committed fraud, but no way did I expect that media interest.
“When we were in court there was a man who was up in another case who had committed fraud for millions of pounds.
“All of the Press were in there, but as soon as Anne appeared in another court the Press all left his case.”
His sceptical feelings of how the case was reported remain.
He even claims his phone may have been hacked in the aftermath of walking into the police station and claiming a complete blank in his memory.
“I used to hear clicking when I picked my phone up,” he said.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if it was hacked.”
John has been in his new bungalow since the end of July and spends most of his day in his garden.
He opens a patio door to a spacious back garden and tells of his plans to give it a new look next summer.
He says the weather has prevented him from working in the garden over the last six weeks.
“I like spending my time in the garden,” he adds.
“I am a five-minute walk from the beach and a five second walk from my garden.
“What more can I ask?”
John is suffering with arthritis and crutches stand in his porch.
“In Easington I was walking up and down stairs in a terraced house,” he added.
“Here I can go out and enjoy a walk every morning, next year I want to get myself a bike.
“I like to go to the Staincliffe Hotel.
“Sometimes I have a drink in there, sometimes I just talk to the staff.”
* SEE tomorrow’s Mail for what the future holds for Darwin.