Nine years after David Leigh tracked down the wife of the man who faked his own death in a conoeing accident, he has told her story in a book.
Leigh was Miami bureau chief of Splash News when he found Anne Darwin in Panama City in 2007 and persuaded her to be interviewed.
She had conspired with husband John to fake his own death in a canoeing accident in 2003, off Seaton Carew near Hartlepool, on order to cash in his life insurance and pay off debts. Every national newspaper wanted to find Mrs Darwin after John gave himself up to the police.
She agreed to produce the book with Leigh, despite the fact that he helped seal her fate by flying her back to the UK and telling her story in the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail. She was convicted at trial after pleading not-guilty due to marital coercion.
Leigh said: “It was her confession to me that helped seal her fate because she was still lying about everything when John had reappeared.
“There was the famous picture of them together in Panama. I put it to her and had to confront her and that was when it all came tumbling out.”
Explaining how the book came about, he said: “She seemed to trust me, I wrote to her and visited her in prison two or three times and when she was released we kept in contact.
“Over the years I raised the possibility of doing a book. She has never once asked for money but when she agreed to do it she asked for whatever money that would come her way to go to the RSPCA where she works and the RNLI.
“She is approached by journalists virtually every other week and she’s never said anything. She said this is a one off. This is her chance to have her say.”
Leigh said the most interesting aspect of the book was Darwin’s relationship with her two grown-up sons, who believed for five years that their father was dead.
Leigh said: “When she was sentenced the judge said the real victims of this were the boys. That may be true but that’s a moral offence not a criminal one. The sentence for me was incredibly harsh, six and a half years for what amounted to fraud involving £500,000.
“She’s only got herself to blame because she told some pretty despicable lies and also deciding to plead not guilty was completely the wrong decision.
“Had she told the boys they would have had to make a decision to turn her in or become a party to the crime and face some pretty serious offences themselves.
“She didn’t want to involve them and so did something she’ll regret for the rest of her life.”
He said that Darwin is now reconciled with her sons and in a “much better place”.
Leigh is now chief content officer of The Mega Agency, a new global news and pictures agency being launched by Splash News founder Kevin Smith.
Out of My Depth by Anne Darwin with David Leigh is published by Mirror Books, priced £8.99.