quarta-feira, 5 de dezembro de 2007

Missing canoeist John Darwin arrested

Police have arrested a canoeist who turned up alive five and a half years after he was thought to have drowned at sea.

The arrest comes as a picture has emerged that it is claimed shows John Darwin with his wife in Panama last year.

Mr Darwin, a 57-year-old married father-of-two from Hartlepool, walked into a police station in London on Saturday.

He disappeared after paddling out to sea in his canoe in Seaton Carew, near Hartlepool, in 2002.

The canoeist's wife admitted last night that she had claimed on her husband's life insurance policy after his "death".

However, Anne Darwin, who emigrated to Panama in Central America six weeks ago, insisted she had done so "in good faith".

The picture, published in the Daily Mirror, was apparently taken in Panama in 2006 when the couple stayed in an apartment rented through the firm Move to Panama.

A couple named John and Anne are pictured on the company's website with the firm's boss, who said they had not used the surname Darwin.

advertisementYesterday it emerged that Mr Darwin was investigated by police three months ago over alleged links to Panama.

Mr Darwin was described as looking "very fit and suntanned" when he arrived at a west London police station on Saturday, according to a legal source involved in the inquiry.

In another twist, the family of the 57-year-old former prison officer released a statement that said he could not remember anything since June 2000 - two years before he was presumed drowned at sea.

His son, Anthony Darwin, 29, said they were "extremely happy" Mr Darwin is alive and that Mrs Darwin had been informed of the "good news".

He added: "Due to John's memory loss, there is little more we can add."

Mr Darwin's aunt, Margaret Burns, said she was unsure about what happened.

Mrs Burns, 80, who lives near Hartlepool, said last night: "I assumed he was dead. John was supposed to be paddling his canoe in April which is the coldest sea temperature.

"If he'd turned turtle or sunk he would have died quickly. I believe the lifeboatmen have now made the remark that he may not even have got wet."

It has also emerged that Mr Darwin was only reported missing 12 hours after setting out in his canoe in calm conditions close to the home he shared with his wife in Seaton Carew, near Hartlepool.

Tug Wilson, 60, a retired station controller for Hartlepool Coastwatch, confirmed the water was "like glass" on the day the canoeist went missing and said the incident had puzzled the coastwatch team.

He said: "When they found the canoe and there was no body there were a lot of rumours about."

Mr Darwin's family had him officially declared dead when an "open verdict" was recorded at an inquest in April 2003, 13 months after his disappearance.

Mrs Darwin's decision to sell up and leave the family home is also being looked into.

Police have taken possession of items of mail addressed to her from John Duffield, who bought the property in October for £295,000.

He said she had left behind many items, including two computers with their hard drives removed and a selection of teach-yourself Spanish books.

From the day he moved in, letters addressed to her with Panama postmarks began arriving.

Mr Duffield, 37, said: "She was very quiet and soft spoken, the sort of person you might expect to be a librarian."

Mrs Darwin moved to Panama City six weeks ago after selling the couple's home in Seaton Crew but said she hopes to fly back to Britain to see her husband.

Inspector Andy Vickers, of Cleveland Police, said: "A 57-year-old man has been arrested this evening by Hampshire Police at the request of Cleveland Police in relation to their ongoing investigation surrounding the disappearance of John Darwin, from Hartlepool, in March 2002."

Hampshire Police declined to make any comment.

Mr Darwin's son Anthony lives in Basingstoke, Hampshire.

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