CANOE conman John Darwin has spoken for the first time about faking his own death in a scam that gripped the nation.
Hartlepool man John Darwin recounted the moment nine years ago when he paddled out to his “death” in a canoe from the shoreline overlooked by his huge family home at The Cliff, in Seaton Carew.
Darwin told how he gave no thought to the ramifications of the act – the grief of his two sons Mark, 35, and Anthony, 32, a £100,000 search for him, and finally a six-year jail sentence.
He said the stress of the crippling debts and the fact that he was worth more dead than alive spurred him on to paddle out to sea.
The 60-year-old conman told a national newspaper: “As I was paddling out, I thought shall I do it for blooming real.”
But he stuck to his plan and so began a shocking tale of deception and greed.
Saddled with a £240,000 mortgage and debt collectors poised to swoop over a year-old credit card bill, Darwin told how his mounting problems clouded his judgement over the hurt he would cause his sons.
“I honestly thought my sons would get over it in a month or two,” he said.
To his neighbours in Seaton Carew Darwin seemed to have it all, with his stunning home, owning a string of 14 rented properties in the area, working full time as a prison officer and a Range Rover on the drive.
But the cloud of his credit card debt was about to see his “rosy” lifestyle crumble around him.
He said: “I was asset-rich, cash poor. I had options, I could have smuggled drugs, telephones into prison, I could have burgled houses.
“But I realised looking at our policies that I was worth more dead than alive and that stuck in my head.”
After paddling out to sea the morning after a stormy night in Seaton Carew, he returned to shore where Anne was waiting to drive him to a Durham Railway Station and from then he lived in a Cumbrian bed and breakfast, and then in a tent on a remote beach along Solway Firth, growing a beard and losing a lot of weight.
He claimed he was even unrecognisable to Anne when she picked him up to take him home where he would live as a tenant in one of their bedsits as flat-capped, bearded, spectacle-wearing John Jones, who walked with a stick and a limp.
In October 2003 he and his wife, 59 –- who was released from jail earlier this month and is living in Leeds – travelled to Turkey, northern Cyprus, America, Gibraltar, Greece, Venezuela, Costa Rica and eventually Panama – places where they “could be the couple we always were”.