POLICE were last night preparing to question the back-from-the-dead canoeist on suspicion of fraud – and have not ruled out the possibility of extraditing his wife from Panama.
A suntanned John Darwin stunned detectives investigating his disappearance – and the coroner who held an inquest into his ‘death’ – by walking into a central London police station on Saturday.
But since his dramatic reappearance, it transpired his wife Anne had moved to Panama after selling the couple’s seven-bedroom property.
A photograph has also emerged, apparently showing the couple in Panama City in July 2006.
Mr Darwin, a former teacher and prison officer, had been staying at his son Anthony’s house in Basingstoke, Hampshire, until his arrest late last night at the request of Cleveland Police.
Officers travelled from the North-East to collect him and Mr Darwin arrived back in the region last night.
At a news conference at Cleveland Police headquarters in Middlesbrough yesterday, Det Supt Tony Hutchinson said officers will carefully study the photo of the couple, apparently taken to promote a business helping people to move to the Central American state.
He agreed it would defy belief that Mr Darwin could have recently found his wife in Panama if he was suffering memory loss.
He said: “It’s only right and proper that we speak to him under caution and we speak to him after he has been subject to various medical examinations.”
Officers could fly out to Panama to question Mrs Darwin, and extradition proceedings could follow, depending on what emerges from interviews with the mystery canoeist, police said.
She has received a payout on his life insurance, which may now have to be repaid. In an interview, she said she planned to see her husband again, but hoped he might travel out to see her.
Asked about any extradition proceedings, Det Supt Hutchinson said she could be extradited to this country after questioning, but that would take some considerable time.
He said: “It’s important that we take the inquiry step by step, stage by stage, and continue to review what we have.”
Mr Hutchinson said police received a tip-off three months ago about the couple’s finances. “There was some information to suggest that perhaps there was something suspicious with regard to his disappearance. As a result of that information, we then began to conduct some inquiries on a financial basis.
“Certainly, three months ago we didn’t know that John Darwin was alive. We didn’t know that until he walked into the police station.”
The experienced detective said there were concerns at the time of Mr Darwin’s disappearance about links he may have had to the US. Mr Hutchinson said of Hartlepool coroner Malcolm Donnelly: “No doubt he was as surprised as everyone else at the events of recent days.”
An inquest was held 13 months after he vanished, and an open verdict was recorded. Mr Donnelly said the registration of Mr Darwin’s death will now be officially made null and void.
When he turned up in London, Mr Darwin appeared suntanned and in good health, but told officers he had no recollection of events since June 2000 – two years before he disappeared while canoeing.
A photograph issued by police of Mr Darwin after his reappearance showed him looking relaxed and well. Police have now set up a freephone line and an email address to collect information from the public about his whereabouts since March 2002.
The free number is 0800 0560944, with a line for international callers on 0207 715 80010 and an email address of firstname.lastname@example.org
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Curiouser and curiouser: The man who came back from the dead
January 2002: Married father of two John Darwin, then aged 51, sums up his life story to date in an entry on the Friends Reunited website. He writes: “Taught in Derwentside (County Durham) for 18 years before leaving teaching to join Barclays Bank. At present work for Prison Service and have portfolio of properties. Married to a convent girl, Anne Stephenson, we have two grown-up sons and two dogs. Recently moved to Seaton Carew where I hope to retire soon.”
March 21: Mr Darwin is last seen at 8am paddling out to sea. The water is calm. His wife reports him missing at 10.30pm. A major air and sea search is launched.
March 22: A paddle from the canoe is found 100 metres out to sea but it is weeks before the shattered remains of the red kayak were found washed up near the mouth of the River Tees. Police scour coastline from Hartlepool down to North Yorkshire, but no trace is found of the missing man.
September: Mr Darwin’s wife, Anne, issues a statement expressing her sadness at having no grave to visit to mourn for her husband.
April 2003: An open verdict is recorded at an inquest into Mr Darwin’s death and the coroner declares him dead.
Summer 2007: Cleveland Police receive financial information linked to Mr Darwin’s disappearance.
November: Mrs Darwin sells their house in Seaton Carew and moves to an apartment in Panama City.
December 1: At 5.30pm Mr Darwin, now 57, walks into the West End Central police station in London, looking suntanned, fit and well. He tells officers: “I think I am a missing person.”
December 2: His sons, Mark, 31, and Anthony, 29, who both live in southern England, are called to an “emotional reunion” with their father at the police station off Regent Street.
December 3: Mr Darwin’s 90-year-old father, Ronald Darwin, of Blackhall Colliery, County Durham, says: “I always said to the police that there might be more to this than it appeared at first. When his canoe was found but he wasn’t, it didn’t seem right.”
December 4: Mr Darwin’s sons announce that their father cannot remember anything since 2000. His wife is traced to an apartment in Panama City, although the Foreign Office says she is not registered as living there. She tells reporters she is thrilled her husband is alive and is looking forward to seeing him again but fears she may have to pay back the life insurance payout she received.
December 5: Mr Darwin is in police custody after being arrested at his son’s home in Hampshire overnight on suspicion of fraud. A photograph dated July 2006 showing Mr Darwin and his wife in Panama is published. Officers later return the 57-year-old to the Cleveland Police area for questioning.