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Viewers across the country have been gripped this past week by the latest ITV drama to hit our screens The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe.
The four part drama which began on Easter Sunday dramatises the unbelievable real-life insurance scam staged by John and Anne Darwin, which involved faking John’s death.
John Darwin faked his own death in a now infamous ‘canoe accident’ back in 2002, with his wife reporting him missing shortly afterwards.
READ MORE: John and Anne Darwin’s son sneaks onto set of new ITV drama about fake canoe death scandal
Following an extensive search by emergency services and no sign of him, John was declared legally dead, but in reality, the former prison officer has actually gone into hiding next door to their family home the entire time.
The cunning ploy had been orchestrated so that his wife Anne could cash in a life insurance policy and clear the huge amount of debt the couple had found themselves in.
However neither John nor Anne had informed their sons that this was what they were doing, with their two boys left to mourn the loss of their father despite him living just yards from the family home.
Twenty years on from the scandal, John and Anne not only had to rebuild their relationships with their sons, they also had grandchildren to meet.
The former couple lied to their two sons, Mark and Anthony, while they faked John’s death so Anne could cash in on his his £250,000 life insurance policy.
Mark and Anthony, who comforted their mother and mourned the loss of their father while he was living just yards away, discovered the shock truth and the same time as the rest of the world.
Understandably angry, confused and betrayed Mark and Anthony vowed never to speak to their parents again.
In 2018, Mark said: “It was a cruel act of betrayal that no parent should ever inflict on their children – the pain and suffering it caused me and my brother is indescribable. The horror of the discovery, my sheer fury and what they put me though, is something that will taint my life forever.”
However, twenty years on from the ordeal Mark and Anthony have managed to reconcile with their mother, Anne, who has now become a doting grandmother who lives a quiet life in York.
John and Anne were eventually rumbled by the authorities for their insurance scam and sentenced to six years and three months, and six years and six months respectively.
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Anne told The Guardian: “After the truth came out that we’d been living in Panama together, I continually wrote to Mark and Anthony to say, ‘I am so sorry. I really do love you.
“But they refused to see or talk to me. The first time I set eyes on them [afterwards] was at my trial when Mark was the first to testify against me. After he left the witness box, he only lifted his eyes fleetingly to meet mine. I was totally shocked by how dark and full of anger they were. To see that was absolutely horrendous.”
Mark later decided to visit his mother in Low Newton Prison shortly after her trial, however, their first encounter was short, stiff and formal.
The relationship did slowly progress and the two started to slowly build bridges, much later Anthony also reluctantly agreed to face his mother for the first time following her conviction.
In 2010 Anne was transferred to Askham open prison, near York, where she got the shock of her life when Anthony and his wife Louise turned up with her grandson who she didn’t even know existed.
“Anne walked nervously down Askham Grange’s gravel drive, barely daring to believe Anthony would be there waiting. But he was,” explained journalist David Leigh
“So too was his wife Louise. They had driven 200 miles north from their home to introduce Anne to the grandson of whose existence she had no idea.”
In March 2011, Anne was released from prison in March after serving half of her sentence, while her ex-husband John, left two months before.
Since their release, Mark has said that he has forgiven his mother to a certain extent but admitted he would not trust either of his parents on financial matters.
Mark, who lives in Hertfordshire with wife and two children, said he could never do to his children what his parents did to him.
However, progress was made in 2016 when Mark invited Anne to join the family on a holiday in Spain and they posed for a loving photograph together.
At the time he told The Mail: “Never, then, would I have ever dreamed I would be happily posing with my mother.
“What I have gone through to get to a stage where I can forgive has been tough. It’s taken deep thought and a difficult process of accepting her faults.”
Mark went on to explain that he only discovered his mother was in on the scam from the start on the first day in court.
Every bit of information he discovered was only learned through the media or at the trial.
He said: “I have forgiven her, to some degree, but I will never understand. Nor forget. I’ve even got over, to some extent, the gnawing need to know why. Why do it to us? Nothing can describe the kick in the teeth I felt when I discovered she had been in on the entire thing
Mark has had some contact with his father and when asked if he could ever forgive him, he simply replied: “Perhaps”.
Adding “But at least I have my family,’ again he pauses, ‘not intact, never again intact. But they are present. They are alive. Do I feel the same about them? No. No, I don’t. But the love is there. It’s just… different. I love my mother. Just not in that childhood, all-encompassing way. Do I trust them? Yes, I do, but only in so far as it wouldn’t adversely affect me.”
His brother, Anthony, has had a much more difficult time forgiving his parents, he does have a relationship with Anne to some extent, however, much more distanced than mark but he refuses to speak to his father at all.
The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe is available for catch up on ITV Hub now.
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