A FUGITIVE couple who went on the run from police by stealing a yacht and setting sail on the high seas were found after they apparently starved to death drifting off the coast of Africa, an inquest was told.
The story of how Peter Clarke and Sharon Arthurs-Chegini, both from Cornwall, met a slow and agonising death was revealed in a diary found on board the yacht.
It is thought the couple wrote about their final moments as they faced certain death.
Mr Clarke, 49, a businessman from Penryn, and interior designer Mrs Arthurs-Chegini, a 46-year-old mother-of-three, of Falmouth, became known as the "Westcountry's answer to Bonnie and Clyde" when they fled Britain after living a "champagne and cocaine lifestyle" beyond their means.
The Western Morning News reported in 2006 that, before their deaths, the couple faced deception charges but had gone on the run from police.
They stole a luxury boat from Mylor harbour in Cornwall in March 2005 and sailed it to the nearby port of Fowey, where they were both arrested and appeared in court.
But they skipped bail and police issued a warrant for their arrest and the couple then stole another yacht from a harbour in Villa Nore, Portugal, the inquest was told. The lovers fled authorities to mainland Europe to enjoy a "fast-paced party lifestyle".
But their badly decomposed bodies were found several months later after the boat was spotted floating 12 miles off the coast of Dakar, Senegal, by fishermen on September 7, 2006.
Mrs Arthurs-Chegini's family said the Senegalese authorities suspected that pirates were responsible for killing them, but the inquest was told they may have starved to death.
It is thought their vessel suffered damage in a storm and that Mr Clarke became bedridden as they tried to survive by drinking sea water and urine.
In a red journal belonging to Mrs Arthurs-Chegini found on board, she had written: "The lights are going out in my heart. We have not eaten for four weeks. I dream of my mum's steak and kidney pie, roast dinner, and sausage and mash."
The inquest, in Truro, was told the couple may have starved to death as the bodies were severely emaciated and there were no provisions or fresh water on board.
One diary entry by Mrs Arthurs-Chegini described how Mr Clarke would not move from his bed and she had little water.
Despite West African police saying pirates could have killed them, post-mortem examination results revealed there were no internal or external injuries and gave the cause of death as unascertained.
It was believed Mrs Arthurs-Chegini and Mr Clarke had been dead for some time when fishermen found the yacht which could have been drifting "for several months".
Jade Dunbar, Mrs Arthurs-Chegini's stepdaughter, said she had three daughters by two fathers before meeting Mr Clarke and her daughters had been taken into care.
She was an artist and designer who lived in a "fantasy world" and always wanted to be the life and soul of the party.
She added: "She played the hostess very well and always looked glamorous. She would not be content with serving wine at a party – she would always be lavish and serve champagne.
"She dabbled in cannabis and cocaine, living beyond her means with a decadent lifestyle. She loved boats and saw the lifestyle of having a boat as glamorous.
"She loved nothing better than champagne and loud music on a boat. Sharon told me she had finally found the person she wanted to be with and she was happy."
Ms Dunbar said her stepmother did not seem to get much income from her work and lived off benefits and the men she met. She said the idea of her sailing the world on a yacht would have appealed to her glamorous tastes.
"She enjoyed the dangers of life, it excited her, she thought she was invincible. It led to her mixing with some dangerous and unscrupulous people."
Sylvia Clarke, Mr Clarke's mother, said her son would be out of contact sometimes for years before turning up "as if he had popped out for a loaf of bread".
Mrs Clarke, from Hull, said her son, described as a "financial director", was involved in petty crime, had served a jail sentence for fraud and his charms had left a string of broken relationships.
"He lived life to excess. He always seemed to be searching for something but could not find it."
He had served two jail terms for fraud and had "globe-trotted" before settling in Cornwall.
The inquest was told the couple first fled to Scotland. They are thought to have travelled back to Plymouth and then to Jersey before heading to Spain and Portugal.
Recording an open verdict, coroner Dr Emma Carlyon said there was little evidence as to how the couple died other than the diary entry which described a lack of water, food and possible storm damage to the yacht.
She said: "Mrs Arthurs-Chegini kept a red diary and an entry on June 19 suggested they had run out of water and Mr Clarke was unwell." The passage read: "We have been bashed about for days. Peter is collapsed in bed. I have been unable to get to him.
"Everything takes huge amounts of energy, having consumed no water yesterday. I am tired now and the light's going. My heart and love goes out to my daughters and to my immediate family."
Detective Sergeant John Cap, of Devon and Cornwall Police, said there was no evidence of any third party involvement in the deaths and told the court the only evidence of a cause of death was the diary which revealed they were caught in a storm, the sail was torn and they had run out of fuel and water.
He said there was no evidence of any injuries such as knife wounds or gunshot wounds and nothing to suggest piracy was involved.
After the inquest, both families declined to comment. But Mrs Arthurs-Chegini's elderly father Terry, speaking in 2006, had called Clarke an "absolute rotter". He said: "If Sharon had never met him, she would still be alive today."