The unbelievable true story behind new ITV drama The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe

12 April 2022, 08:42 | Updated: 12 April 2022, 11:18

Is The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe a true story? And what really happened?

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The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe is a brand new ITV drama which tells the bizarre true story of canoe conman John Darwin.

Starring Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan, the four-part drama sees his wife Anne become complicit in her husband’s elaborate and fraudulent scheme to avoid bankruptcy.

But what is the true story behind the ITV drama and what really happened to John Darwin? Here’s what we know…

John Darwin faked his own death in 2002
John Darwin faked his own death in 2002. Picture: Getty Images

Is The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe a true story?

Yes, the new ITV drama is very closely based on real events that took place in the early 2000s.

ITV has confirmed that some characters and events were created for the purpose of entertainment, but the majority of the story is completely true.

The real number 3 and 4 The Cliff in Hartlepool where John and Anne Darwin lived
The real number 3 and 4 The Cliff in Hartlepool where John and Anne Darwin lived. Picture: Alamy

John and Anne Darwin did run a business renting bedsits in County Durham but racked up serious debt in December 2000 after buying two adjoining houses in Seaton Carew.

With thousands of pounds to pay back, two years later John came up with the plan to fake his own death in order to claim life insurance.

Anne Darwin and John Darwin were caught out with a photo from Panama
Anne Darwin and John Darwin were caught out with a photo from Panama. Picture: ITV

Anne reported him missing in 2002 after he went canoeing near their home and continued to lie to their sons, Mark and Anthony, for five years.

She ended up claiming £679,000 in pensions and insurance payouts, all while John was living in the bedsit next door.

In a bid to start a new life, the couple ended up selling their properties and moving to an apartment in Panama City.

Their secret was exposed when John turned up at a police station in London in 2007 claiming to have suffered from amnesia, with Anne pretending she thought he was dead.

Anne Darwin now lives a quiet life in York
Anne Darwin now lives a quiet life in York. Picture: Alamy

But police found out he was lying after the discovery of a now infamous photo of the couple smiling in a real estate office in Panama in July 2006.

Anne pleaded not guilty at her trial, saying she had been coerced to go along with the plit by her husband.

The jury found her guilty and she received a prison sentence of six years and six months, while John was ordered to serve six years and three months.

The couple went on to divorce, with Anne going on to write a book in 2016 called Out of my Depth.

She now lives a quiet life in York and also reconciled with her sons, while John - now 71 - has gone on to marry a woman called Mercy May, 48.