Canoeist's father saw money-making scam coming


Last updated at 18:04 07 December 2007

John Darwin's elderly father gave an insight into his son's character last night - saying he had always been keen to make his fortune.

Ronald Darwin, 90, said at his home in Blackhall Colliery, near Hartlepool: "He was one of those who was trying to get rich too quick."

Mr Darwin made the comment following a turbulent week, in which he first expressed his delight at his son's return followed by disbelief that John could be charged with fraud.

Yesterday, the canoeist's sons, Mark, 32, and Anthony, 29, remained in hiding but are understood to be in the South of England.

Mark, who lives with three flatmates in Finchley, North London, and was due to start a new job this week had not returned to his home while there was no sign of Anthony, who lives with his wife Louise, at their semi-detached home in Basingstoke.

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Ronald Darwin

The last time they were seen was on Thursday evening when they both returned briefly to Basingstoke to collect a suitcase, and left followed by a police car.

Mark Darwin had done a "moonlight flit" from his home the previous night, taking most of his possessions but leaving behind a notebook full of "strange" instructions for his girlfriend Felicia Witts and directions to London's City Airport.

The notepad, which Cleveland Police want to study, contained "codes" and rambling notes about "going to phone boxes and not telling people your name". It is also believed to contain references to Panama. In a bizarre coincidence, both sons recently left their jobs.

Mark's girlfriend, Miss Witts, 30, could not be traced yesterday and was thought to be with him.

Anthony's wife Louise, whose mother Shelley Tilley said her daughter had cried during a phone call to her parents, was also thought to be with her husband in a secret location.

John Darwin, who is being quizzed by detectives, has already emerged as something of a fantasist. His aunt, Margaret Burns, 80, told earlier this week how he had once boasted of owning 17 homes and that he "would be a millionaire by the time he was 50".

Despite their disappearance, police say the two sons are not suspects. Their own comments suggest they had no idea their father was alive. In their most recent statement, made through the police, they said that if their mother's confession was genuine, they felt they had been "the victims of a large scam".

They added they had not spoken to either parent since their father's arrest and wanted no further contact with them.

Comments made by their 55-year-old mother Anne in Panama seemed also to exonerate her sons. Pleading for their forgiveness, she said: "They are totally innocent. They knew nothing. They thought their father was dead."

A spokesman for Cleveland Police last night said Mark and Anthony Darwin were being treated as "witnesses or victims" and were "in the South" of England.

"We are in regular contact with them," she said. "We have got an officer who is speaking to them and keeping them posted.

"I think they are traumatised by the events of last weekend. There has been an unprecedented interest in this story and I think they are not necessarily lying low but have gone somewhere where they can get a bit of head space. I don't know whether they are in hotels or with relatives."

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