Without a doubt, the biggest victims of John and Anne Darwin’s terrifying plan were their two sons.
John faked his own death in a canoe crash in 2002, while his ex-wife Anne played the grieving widow and collected his £250,000 life insurance policy.
Lying to the police, friends and family is one thing, but this couple led their own grieving sons to believe their father had been dead for 5 years.
Anthony and Mark Darwin were not involved in the twisted scheme and were comforting their mother while their ‘dead’ father was actually just meters away in the house next to their family home.
They endured unimaginable pain and suffering when they found out the truth, rejected their parents, and even testified against them in court.
“We don’t want to see them. Used to be,” they said, but over the past few years there has been virtually no possibility of reconciliation – but the two brothers have different views.
One of the brothers even sneaked onto the set of the new ITV drama The Thief, his Wife and the Canoe in disguise, so how is their relationship with their parents now?
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Mark first discovered that his father was missing when his uncle Michael called him at work – he then returned to Seaton Carew in Country Durham to assist his mother.
He then appeared to be speechless, saying that his mother had not broken down once and “perfectly played the part of a heartbroken wife”.
A massive search began and when the Coast Guard officers found nothing, Mark began to think his father had suffered from angina and feared that he had died alone.
In scenes that have been recreated almost identically to the ITV drama, Mark and Anthony stand guard on either side of their mother Anne.
The three look out at the North Sea together before crying, Anne hurling a wreath of red roses into the vibrant waters where John is said to have perished.
At home, Anne laid out a selection of her ‘deceased’ husband for their sons to choose as mementos.
Mark said of that day in 2004: “I touch my father’s watch, his onyx cufflinks, the memories sink into me when I touch them.”
Anne then reveals to them that she contemplates taking her own life as the stress of lying about John’s ‘death’ has become too much – but decides against it for the sake of her sons. .
Speaking at Teesside Crown Court in July 2008, she said: “I ran out of the house and across the street to the sea and I sat on the beach looking out at the sea. I wish John had drowned in the sea.
“I considered going into the sea. I was desperate but I couldn’t do it because it would affect the rest of the family, especially Mark and Anthony, and I didn’t have the courage so I made it up to myself. calm yourself down. come back down.”
Over the years, the couple have used their meager earnings to fly around the world to start a new life and buy a £200,000 tropical property in a village in Panama. in May 2007.
However, the change in Panama’s visa law meant that John needed to go home and he went straight to the police station and claimed that he had amnesia.
When a photo of the couple in Panama surfaced and the truth came out, Mark said he was full of “bitterness and anger” and that he and Anthony had severed all ties with their parents.
“It was an act of merciless betrayal that no parent can inflict on their children – the pain and suffering it caused me and my brother is indescribable. ruined my life forever,” he told the Daily Mail in 2018.
The boys were questioned by police for more than four hours but were cleared of any connection to John’s disappearance.
“There is nothing to suggest that they are anything other than witnesses and of course victims in the case,” police said.
John was sentenced to six years and three months in prison for admitting fraud by faking her own death, while Anne received six and a half years behind bars for fraud.
Anne explained to The Guardian: “After it was revealed that we were living together in Panama, I kept writing to Mark and Anthony to say, ‘I’m so sorry. I really love you guys”.
“But they refused to see or talk to me. The first time I laid eyes on them [afterwards] at my trial when Mark was the first to testify against me. After leaving the witness box, he raised his eyes only briefly to meet me. I was completely shocked by their darkness and anger. To see that is absolutely terrible. “
Mark had decided to visit his mother at Low Newton Prison shortly after her trial, but their first meeting was brief, arduous, and solemn.
However, they started building bridges for later visits, and when Anne was released from prison in March 2011 after serving half of her sentence – two months after John was released.
In 2018, Mark announced he had finally forgiven his mother but would certainly not trust his parents about financial matters.
Mark said: “I forgave her, to an extent, but I will never understand. Nor have I forgotten. I have even overcome, to some degree, the need to gnaw to I know why Why do that to us Nothing can describe the kick in my teeth I felt when I found out she was in the whole thing.
The Darwins’ son explained that all he knew was through the media or at the trial – and it was only on the first day of the trial that he realized Anne was part of the scheme. right from the start.
Mark, who lives in Hertfordshire with his wife Flick and their two sons, said he could never do for his children what his mother did to him but invited her on a family holiday to Spain .
He contacted his father and when asked if he could ever forgive him, he simply replied: “Probably”.
Continuing, he added: “But at least I have my family,” he paused again, “not whole, never whole again. But they are present. They are still alive. Do I feel the same way about them No, I don’t But love is there Just… different I love my mother Not in that childhood, completely Do I trust them ? Yes, I do, but only insofar as it won’t adversely affect me.”
Meanwhile, Anthony was less forgiving as he still refused to talk to John and was more distant from his mother than Mark.
David Leigh, the journalist who came in contact with John, explained that the man in the canoe claimed one of the reasons he had returned from Panama was to see his sons, but did not keep his word.
His parents are divorced and John now lives in the Philippines with a much younger new wife, who is, somewhat ironically, Mercy.
Speaking on This Morning this week, David said: “I think he’s in Manila and I think he’s still in contact with one of them but the other has completely turned him down and he doesn’t seem to be. You know, and it’s the exact opposite of Anne.
“Anne now has both sons back in her life, she has four grandchildren of her own and she lives a very quiet and anonymous life.”
One of the boys actually managed to sneak into the set of The Thief, his Wife and the Canoe to disguise himself for the day.
Eddie Marsan, who is playing John in the four-part TV series, said: “We didn’t know until a few weeks later. He came in with a baseball cap and a Covid mask to watch. We did not receive any response.”
Viewers will see their son Mark, played by actor Mark Stanley, visit his father with a copy of the Mirror.
Speaking of John’s narcissism, Eddie explained: “You can see it in the way he treats his sons. Before he faked his own death, he said, ‘children. My son will get over it in a few weeks.”
“He had a very difficult relationship with his father. He wasn’t emotionally attached to his father, so he didn’t realize his sons would become attached to him.
“Narcissists assume that everyone is like them. John lacks empathy. When he actually listened to his sons’ grief, he was shocked by it.”
The series’ executive producer, David Nath, spoke about Anne’s relationship with her sons.
“This is the story of what got Anne to go with this plan. It also explores how you recover from it,” says David.
“The profound and terrible nature of her betrayal of her children is difficult to repair, but it is hard to believe that her sons have rebuilt their relationship with their mother. It is an act of forgiveness. extraordinary thing.”
While screenwriter Chris Lang wanted to convey how Anne was controlled by her husband for decades, but did not want to downplay the crimes she committed.
He explained: “We owe it to our sons, the true victims of John and Anne’s crimes, to be true. I can’t imagine a greater betrayal than a mother telling you that your father died when she learned that he was indeed still alive”.
“Pretend to grieve for five years, let them grieve for five years – what would make a mother do that? That seems unthinkable to any parent.”
* The Thief, His Wife and the CAnoe airs on ITV at 9pm from Easter Sunday to Wednesday April 20
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https://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/john-anne-darwins-sons-now-26738225 Where is the son of John and Anne Darwin now - denial, suffering and division of forgiveness