Story of John and Anne Darwin's canoe death insurance scam to be retold in new ITV drama

A new television series will tell the story of how Hartlepool man John Darwin and his wife Anne cashed in after faking his death in a canoe tragedy.

By Fiona Thompson
Friday, 5th March 2021, 1:39 pm

ITV has commissioned The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe, written and executive produced by screenwriter Chris Lang, with filming to begin this spring and the cast still to be revealed.

Lang, the screenwriter behind Unforgotten, Dark Heart and Innocent, will tell through a four-part drama how the former prison officer staged his death in March 2002 to claim life insurance and avoid bankruptcy, unbeknownst to their sons Mark and Anthony.

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Timeline of how the John Darwin conman saga unfolded
The story of how John and Anne Darwin spun a web of lies to cash in on life insurance by staging his death in a canoeing incident in the sea close to their property in Seaton Carew will be told in a new ITV drama.

It is based on the unpublished manuscript by David Leigh, the first journalist to interview Anne in Panama City after the couple had fled the UK.

The drama, made by award winner Story Films, will focus on how she became complicit in her husband’s deception he had gone missing while canoeing off Seaton Carew, where they owned two large houses.

John, mortgaged to the hilt with debts of £64,000, laid low in a bedsit next door as Anne was questioned by police.

The photo John Darwin used on his passport after using the details of a Sunderland baby who died in infancy to apply for a passport.

But their secret was exposed by a photo of them in a Panama real estate office in July 2006.

At her trial, Anne pleaded not guilty, arguing she was coerced by her husband, but the jury did not believe her, with both jailed for more than six years.

Chris said: “If I'd tried to sell this project as an original story, it would never have got further than the pitch.

"’It's just too far-fetched, Chris, no-one would ever believe that any of that could actually have happened’.

"Except it did. All of it. And I loved writing every, single, word.”

The drama has been commissioned by Head of Drama Polly Hill and will be produced in association with All3Media International.

The project – the latest in a line of programmes based on the scam – will be directed by Richard Laxton, while fellow directors David Nath and Peter Beard will also work on the shows, with Susie Liggat to executive produce and Alison Sterling also producing.

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