The wife of John Darwin has told how she made her weeping children believe their father had died in a canoe accident as part of a six-figure fraud.
The dad faked his own death in 2002 so he and wife Anne could benefit from a portfolio of life insurance policies worth more than £680,000.
He then reappeared, claiming to suffer from amnesia, but police investigations revealed the truth - and the couple were both convicted and jailed in 2008.
Now Anne has spoken of her regrets at the heartbreak the crime caused their children.
"As the world now knows, my husband and I had inflicted the cruellest possible deception on those we loved by pretending he had drowned so we could claim the insurance money to pay off our debts," she said.
"God knows what the boys would have thought of me had they known that their dad was alive and well inside the family home just a few yards behind us — possibly even watching from a window, for all I knew. I live with the shame of it every moment of my life."
She added: "How could any mother sink so low? It is a question I ask myself daily."
Anne Darwin, not 64, made the remarks in an article she has written for the Daily Mail, ahead of the release of her book Out of my Depth, written with David Leigh.
"Why did I do it? That is the question I still ask myself today. Why, when I got home, did I make that phone call to the police?
"I was never motivated by money. That wasn’t the reason. Incredible though it may sound, the only reason I had was my loyalty to John.
"I felt I had a duty as his wife to do what he had asked. I went along with everything he asked of me, and I fully accept that I was, therefore, totally complicit in the crime."
Anne said her husband had decided on his drastic course of action after getting into severe debt.
She said he had overstretched himself by buying the family's seaside home - and a disastrous venture involving him purchasing the house next door to convert into bedsits, which ended in failure.
"The truth was, he simply could not contemplate the thought of losing everything and being seen as a failure," she said.
"We couldn’t even sell any of our other properties to keep our creditors at bay, because John had rolled all our debts into one huge monthly payment, known as a global mortgage.
"John owed £64,000 on credit cards, and the car was costing him a crazy £650 every month out of his £1,300 take-home pay. I earned £750 a month but our mortgage payment was £1,735 a month, and on top of that John had taken out various high interest loans. Our total debts came to around £350,000, rising by the day. A tide of financial ruin was about to engulf us.
"I hated coming home from work, dreading what new bills or threatening letters were waiting on the doormat."