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Police probe mystery of dad.

Byline: By DAVE ROBSON

DETECTIVES were today starting to piece together the last five years of a Teesside canoeist's life after he came back from the dead.

Relatives thought John Darwin had drowned after his red canoe was found smashed on a beach near his home in Seaton Carew, Hartlepool, in March 2002, following a major search operation.

His wife and two sons presumed the prison officer and ex-teacher had died, but the 57-year-old walked into a London police station on Saturday evening and told officers he was a missing person.

He has since been reunited with his sons, Mark and Anthony, but his wife Anne recently emigrated - possibly to Panama - after selling the couple's seafront home. Mr Darwin is currently in the South-east.

Today detectives will set about trying to piece together the mystery of where Mr Darwin has been for the last five and a half years.

A spokeswoman for Cleveland Police said: "Cleveland Police are delighted that Mr Darwin is alive and appears to be fit and well. Inquiries in relation to this matter are ongoing and have been since the initial disappearance in March 2002.

"It will be appropriate to speak to Mr Darwin at some stage in this inquiry but we are yet to determine when that will be.

"Cleveland Police would ask if anyone has any further information as to Mr Darwin's whereabouts over the past five years they should contact us."

Mr Darwin's delighted father Ronald, 91, of Blackhall Colliery, County Durham, spoke of his joy and said a childhood accident may account for what happened.

Mr Darwin said when his son was four or five he was knocked down by a car and suffered a head injury, which could have caused amnesia later in his life.

"Now he's got his memory back," Mr Darwin said.

"When I speak to him, I will ask him where he has been these last few years and I'll ask 'why didn't you make arrangements to see me before now?'.

"I'll tell him a lot more too, but I'm extremely happy now."

"I always thought he would turn up," he added.

Mr Darwin heard his son's wife had moved to Panama, and believed she first went out there around a year ago.

Mr Darwin's brother David said: "All the family is so relieved that John is alive.

"It is the best Christmas present any family could wish for."

Meanwhile, a lifeboatman who helped coordinate the massive search for Mr Darwin today insisted they bore no grudges for their unnecessary time at sea.

Dave Cammish was Red car Lifeboat Station's deputy launching authority on March 21, 2002, when reports came in of a missing canoeist.

Mr Cammish said the lifeboat lads were as astonished as anyone when Mr Darwin turned up safe and well at the weekend.

He said: "I was watching the news with my wife when it came on. We looked at each other and said 'never in this world.' "The lads are very surprised at the weekend's developments but not angry or annoyed.

"Whatever has been going through the guy's mind, we don't go there."

Mr Darwin, a former officer at Holme House Prison, Stockton, has said he has no recollection of what he has been doing for the past half decade.

Matt Spencer, governor of Holme House Prison, said staff there were "amazed" at Mr Darwin's sudden reappearance.

He said: "We are very pleased that John is alive. It was believed for five years that he was dead.

"Like everybody else we've no idea where he's been. It will be interesting to see what unfolds.

"Most people did think that John had met a tragic death. People are just really amazed and really pleased."

Detective Chief Inspector Paul Beddow, of Cleveland Police, said: "We are pleased Mr Darwin has been located and any interviews with him are a matter of procedure.

"This has been a long running inquiry by Cleveland Police and officers from the inquiry team hope to speak to Mr Darwin to establish his whereabouts during the past five-and-a-half years."

Two police officers called at the couple's former home in Seaton Carew to take away mail, the new owner said. The male and female uniformed officers spoke to John Duffield, 36, for about 10 minutes.

The chemical process operator bought the seven-bedroom property six weeks ago from Mrs Darwin and was in the process of decorating its cellar and three storeys.

Mr Duffield said there was no indication that Mrs Darwin was trying to force the sale to go through quickly - indeed he was keen to get a move on so no-one else jumped in and bought the impressive property instead of them.

When he and his partner moved in, furniture was left including wardrobes and settees, but few personal items were left, he said.

"We did find teach yourself Spanish books in her study," he said.

"We assumed she was moving to Spain."

When Mr Duffield heard about Mr Darwin's reappearance he contacted police to say he was still receiving letters addressed to Mrs Darwin.

He said he had no forwarding address for her and neither did the estate agent.

Mr Duffield refused to speculate about what may have happened.

"I find the whole thing amusing," he said.

"It was just a normal house sale."

It is not known whether Mr Darwin had any life insurance, or if his family were able to collect it.

Malcolm Tarling, spokesman for the Association of British Insurers, said: "What normally happens, if you are claiming on life insurance, is you need to produce a death certificate.

"Where a person is missing, presumed dead, there normally has to be a lapse before the coroner is willing to pronounce the person dead. That is usually seven years.

"While being unable to comment on this particular instance, I can say that you have to show that you have made steps to prove a person is dead.

"The normal course of events when a person just disappears is that there has to be a period of time, unless you can prove that a person got on a plane, that then crashed in the Atlantic, for example.

"At the end of the day that's a legal matter rather than an insurance one."

Cleveland Police can be contacted on 01642 326326

CAPTION(S):

ALIVE: John Darwin had been missing, thought dead, for five years; FAITH: Ronald Darwin from Blackhall, the father of John Darwin left. John Darwin with his wife Anne, above; RELAXING: Anne Darwin, above, with dogs; SCENE: Above is the beach in Seaton Carew where John Darwin, left, went missing
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Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Dec 4, 2007
Words:1102
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