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CANOE MAN SENSATION; Shock picture of missing man with his wife in 2006.

Byline: By SIMON WALTON

DETECTIVES are today probing this sensational picture - said to be missing Teesside canoeist John Darwin with his wife Anne in Panama more than a year ago.

The dramatic photograph was published today by the Gazette's sister paper the Daily Mirror in its late London editions.

It is said to show Darwin with his wife in July last year - when everyone thought he was dead.

The revelation comes as Cleveland Police confirmed that Darwin, 57, was arrested last night after officers swooped on his son's home in Basingstoke in Hampshire.

Darwin turned up when he walked into a London police station at the weekend five and a half years after he was feared drowned near his home at Seaton Carew near Hartlepool, in March 2002.

It was revealed last night that police in Hartlepool were aware that Darwin might still be alive three months ago after being told of a financial link to Panama City made in his name.

But in a further twist, the picture emerged, which is said to show Darwin and his wife Anne in Panama last summer.

Anne - who sold her Seaton Carew home six weeks ago to move to Panama - gave an interview yesterday to say she was "overjoyed" at the news her husband was still alive.

Mrs Darwin confirmed she had claimed life insurance in her husband's name, which may now have to be repaid.

But she claimed she had done so in good faith and had no idea until now that Mr Darwin was still alive.

However, last night the manager of a holiday firm said the couple rented a room in Panama City in July last year and posed for the extraordinary picture on the company's website.

Former Holme House prison officer Darwin and Anne are said to have posed for the photo beside Mario Vilar, boss of Move to Panama.

Mr Vilar today said he had thought nothing strange of the picture until newspapers started calling him.

He said: "I remember posing with them for that picture, they were quite happy to be pictured and knew it was going on the website.

"It's breathtaking to think they were happy to have their picture on the site when they knew they might get caught."

The picture was discovered by a friend who was surfing the internet after hearing that Darwin had reappeared.

A pal said: "She couldn't believe what she had seen and immediately called Cleveland Police."

Earlier, it was reported that Darwin may have spent the past five years in America with an "internet" lover. He was apparently in contact with "several women" in the US when he disappeared.

Cleveland Police today said they were "aware" of the photograph.

A source close to the case said Darwinwas able to give his name, date of birth and personal details, but claimed he did not know where he had been when he turned up at the London police station.

The source added: "Judging by his appearance, he has spent a fair bit of time abroad. He had a deep suntan and that would suggest he has not been living in this country. He certainly hasn't been in Seaton Carew."

Darwin's sons Anthony, 29 and Mark, 31, issued a statement yesterday to say their father could not remember anything since June 2000.

Meanwhile, his wife Anne, 55, a former doctor's receptionist, spoke for the first time from her new home in Panama City.

She denied claims that Darwinmay have faked his own disappearance because of spiralling financial problems.

Speaking before the picture - said to show her and her husband in Panama last year - came to light, she said: "This is the moment I've always prayed for. I want to get back to see John as soon as possible. But first I need to address some issues with my visa.

"As soon as everything is sorted out, of course I'll be straight back. Hopefully John will eventually be able to move over here and we can start afresh.We've somuch to talk about and sort out.It's not going to be easy."

Anne insisted she did not know her husband was still alive until she was contacted by one of her sons at the weekend.

She said: "I'm as amazed as anyone else.

"There are somany unanswered questions. It's a complete mystery to me."

Referring to life policies paid out after Darwin was declared dead by a coroner, Anne said: "It's possible they may now have to be repaid.

"If that happens it won't be easy, but I'll deal with it. It's one of the things I'm struggling to come to terms with.

"They were claimed in good faith when I believed I'd lost my husband. Now he's come back from the dead.

"But it wasn't the money I wanted. It was having my husband back."

Anne said one of her sons rang on Saturday night with the news that her husband was still alive.

She said: "I asked why he was ringing and he said 'Don't panic, I've no bad news, everybody is all right'.

"Then he went on, 'Are you sitting down, Mum? I'm sitting here with Dad'. I didn't know what to say, there were somany emotions inmy head. I said 'Did I hear you right?' and he said 'Yes, Dad is home'."

Inspector Andy Vickers, of Cleveland Police, confirmed last night: "A 57-year-old man has been arrested this evening by Hampshire Police at the request of Cleveland Police in relation to their ongoing investigation surrounding the disappearance of John Darwin in March 2002."

Cleveland Police were due to hold a press conference later today.

CAPTION(S):

ON CAMERA: This is believed to be a picture of missing canoeist John Darwin with his wife Anne posing with an estate agent in a flat in Panama in July last year
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Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Dec 5, 2007
Words:970
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