A MAJOR new ITV drama coming this month on the story of the notorious ‘Canoe Man’ fraudster John Darwin is based on an upcoming book by Liphook man David Leigh – the first journalist to find and interview Darwin’s wife Anne in Panama.

Four-part drama The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe will tell the story of the ‘back from the dead’ canoeist who faked his own death to claim life insurance and avoid bankruptcy, and how his wife became complicit in the audacious scam.

Journalist David, who now lives in Miami in the US, grew up in Liphook, where his father and three brothers still live, and went to school at Churcher’s College in Petersfield.

In 2007, the then-Mirror journalist flew to Panama, Central America, to track down Darwin’s wife Anne.

The flight to Panama City on the Gulf of Panama came after Darwin miraculously reappeared nearly six years after he was thought to have drowned in the North Sea after going missing in his red canoe.

It later transpired that the former teacher and prison officer had faked his death so his wife could claim on their life insurance policies as they were facing almost certain bankruptcy.

Both were jailed for more than six years after being convicted of fraud and money laundering.

Anne’s confessions to David about how her husband secretly lived in a bedsit in the house next door to the family home for much of the time he was thought to be dead made headlines across the world.

The couple even fooled their own two grown-up children into believing their father was dead.

The four-part ITV drama, written by acclaimed script writer Chris Lang (Unforgotten/Innocent) will be shown on consecutive nights .

It stars Eddie Marsan (Ray Donovan/Ridley Road) and Monica Dolan (Appropriate Adult/A Very English Scandal) as John and Anne Darwin.

The drama has the same title as David’s latest book, The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe, that will be published by Hodder & Stoughton on Thursday, April 14.

David, who played football for Petersfield United and Petersfield Town Juniors, is also cast in the drama.

His character is portrayed by actor David Fynn.

For the past 18 years David, 57, who is married with two daughters, has lived and worked in Miami, Florida, after a successful career on national newspapers in London.

He said: “It was such an incredible story that I decided to write a book.

“It’s such a truly astonishing story that you really would be hard pressed to make it up.

“I’m thrilled that ITV have brought the story to life in this new drama.”

Actor Eddie Marsan said: “The story of how and why John Darwin faked his own death to defraud insurance companies is fascinating, and if it weren’t fact you’d think it unbelievable.

“I can’t pretend to understand what was going on in his head when he made those choices.”

Monica Dolan said: “It tells the story of surely the most outrageous fraud of modern times – and my favourite kind of drama is when the outrageous comes from the prosaic.

“As breathtaking as their managing to pull this deception off in the first place, is how spectacularly the couple wrecked it for themselves as soon as they had got away with it.”