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Extra powers for judges to probe 'presumed dead' cases

Judges in Northern Ireland may be given extra powers to probe mystery disappearances to guard against a repeat of the John Darwin missing canoeist fraud.

The Stormont government is considering introducing laws that would enable the High Court to order disclosure of information from third party witnesses before granting any family a certificate of presumed death for a vanished loved one.

Darwin, 58, and his wife Anne, 56, were jailed for more than six years earlier this year after tricking their sons, friends, police and insurance companies into believing he had drowned while canoeing off the coast of Hartlepool in 2002.

He reappeared at a London police station last December claiming he had lost his memory, however it later emerged that he and his wife had attempted to set up a new life in Panama on the back of his life insurance pay out.

A bill to enable the issuing of presumed death certificates in Northern Ireland is currently going through its legislative stages in the Stormont Assembly.

There has been no such provision in the past, resulting in a variety of problems for families of missing people, particularly in regard to dealing with the person's estate.

Finance minister Nigel Dodds told Assembly members that he was considering the third party proof measures - to try and prevent attempted deception.

"Given the recent media coverage of the Darwin case - the once missing canoeist - members will be understandably concerned about the possibility of fraud," he said

"I will not make the claim that it would never be possible for a person to fraudulently obtain a declaration of presumed death in respect of a person and thereby gain some financial benefit, either for the applicant and the applicant together with the missing person."


From Belfast Telegraph