British police arrest 'dead' canoeist

British detectives said on Wednesday they had arrested a man who reappeared more than five years after he was presumed drowned in a canoeing accident.

John Darwin was held on suspicion of fraud four days after he walked into a London police station and told officers he believed they might be looking for him.

Darwin (57) vanished in March 2002 from his home in north-east England. Since reappearing, tanned and in good health, his family have said he has no memory of events since 2000.

His wife, Anne (55), left the country for Central America with £450 000 shortly before his return after selling her home.

In an interview with a newspaper from her new home in Panama, published on Wednesday, she said she had cashed in her husband’s life insurance policies but said she had done so because she believed he was dead.

“They were claimed in good faith when I believe I had lost my husband and now he has come back from the dead,” the Daily Mail newspaper quoted her as saying.

But another newspaper printed a picture of the Darwins posing together with a date suggesting it had been taken in Panama last year.

“Following a request from Cleveland Police late last night [Tuesday], John Darwin was arrested on suspicion of fraud,” Detective Superintendent Tony Hutchinson told a news conference, saying that insurance pay-outs would be a line of inquiry.

“Without doubt this is an unusual case.”

The mystery began on March 21 2002 when Darwin’s wife reported him missing, saying it was feared he had suffered an accident while kayaking in the North Sea near their home in Hartlepool, Cleveland, north-east England.

Hutchinson said the sea had been calm the day he disappeared and despite extensive searches involving aircraft, lifeboats and a Royal Navy ship, no trace was found of him.

A few weeks later the shattered remains of his red kayak were discovered and, following a police inquiry, in 2003 a coroner declared him dead.

Hutchinson said officers had received a tip-off three months ago that indicated there might be “something suspicious” regarding the disappearance of Darwin, a former prison officer, and had launched inquiries.

“There is at one side the potential he’s suffered amnesia for five-and-a-half years right to the other end of the scale whereby there has been some criminal offences committed,” he said, adding it was not clear why Darwin had handed himself in.

“We will be looking to see if there has been any contact over the last five years between Mr and Mrs Darwin.”

He said officers would like to speak to Darwin’s wife but there were no immediate plans to ask for her extradition.

On Tuesday, Darwin’s sons, Anthony and Mark, told of their delight and shock after he surfaced alive and well, but with no memory of events since June 2000.—Reuters

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