A fraudster who faked his own death for five years after disappearing in a canoe in 2002 has been able to start an extraordinary new life in the Philippines, despite being ordered to repay over £500,000 in life insurances claims.
John Darwin, now 68, was living with first wife Anne in the seaside town of Seaton Carew, County Durham in 2002 when spiralling debts led him to come up with the idea of faking his own death so his wife could use the life insurance payments to pay them off.
He has now found love with someone 23 years his junior and they recently celebrated their fourth wedding anniversary.
Mercy Darwin, 45, who has three children from a different relationship, now lives happily with her husband near the Hinatuan Enchanted River in the Philippines.
The story started when Mr Darwin went out rowing in his canoe just off the north coast and never returned. After a huge manhunt, he was presumed dead.
In reality, he was hiding in the bedsit he and his wife owned next to his house while Mrs Darwin claimed £250,000 in life insurance with the eventual plan being to move to Panama and started a new life.
Their two grown-up sons, Mark and Anthony, had no idea about the plot and were left mourning for their dead dad.
The scheme worked amazingly for five years.
Mr Darwin wore a wig and started calling himself John Jones and posed as a handyman as he tried to live as normal a life as possible without being detected.
He managed to get a passport with the name of a child who died in the 1950s and started making regular trips with his wife to Panama, but when it became clear his fake identity wouldn’t pass the visa tests in Panama the pair changed tact.
In December 2007 Mr Darwin walked into a police station and claimed he had been suffering from amnesia for the past five years.
They almost convinced everyone until the Daily Mirror exposed a photo of the pair in a Panama estate agent that had been posted online with a time stamp.
Both were convicted to more than six years in prison on fraud and money laundering charges.
They served around three and a half years in jail before being released in 2011, they officially ended their marriage soon after.