Chris Lang – the man behind Unforgotten and Innocent on ITV – has been commissioned by the channel to create a new true-crime series.
The extraordinary and compelling story of how John Darwin faked his own death to claim life insurance and avoid bankruptcy will be told in a new ITV drama, The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe.
The four-part drama will focus on how Anne Darwin became complicit in her husband’s deception as she needed to convince the world, their family and friends, the police and insurance companies that he had gone missing in 2002 whilst canoeing off the coast of Seaton Carew in Cleveland where the couple owned two large houses with panoramic views of the sea.
Mortgaged to the hilt, Darwin had also run up debts of £64,000 on 13 credit cards and his excessive spending had seen their finances spiral out of control. Anne would have preferred her husband go bankrupt, but she eventually went along with his absurd scheme to fake his own death.
Darwin laid low whilst Anne was questioned by the police and began to weave a web of deceit.
The deception was to take its toll on Anne who lied to their sons, Mark and Anthony, for five years whilst her husband, in the early days of the fraud, secretly lived in a bedsit next door to the home he shared with Anne.
Devastated by the loss of their father, neither son had an inkling their parents were capable of such treachery. Anne and John Darwin eventually decided to leave Seaton Carew and move to Panama City to start a new life together before their secret was exposed by the discovery of an infamous photo of them posing in a Panama real estate office in July 2006.
At her trial Anne Darwin pleaded not guilty, arguing that she had been coerced into the plot by her husband, but the jury didn’t believe her. She and her husband were both jailed for more than six years.
Lang 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.”