Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Divers Swindle £250,000 in Bogus Claims for Bends Treatment

Most scuba divers are decent, trustworthy sports enthusiasts. We said most, not all.

A pair of professional divers swindled £250,000 from the Health Service for treating bogus cases of the bends.

David Welsh and Michael Brass are facing jail after being found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the NHS and perverting the course of justice.

They paid strangers they met in pubs up to £200 to pose as divers who needed decompression treatment. Most had never been underwater and some could barely swim.

Welsh, 49, of Plymouth ran the Fort Bovisand diving centre in the city, which had its own decompression chamber.

The bends is a condition that occurs when a diver surfaces too quickly and suffers nitrogen poisoning in the blood.

The only treatment is in a hyperbaric decompression chamber which simulates deep sea conditions so the diver can gradually get rid of the condition as the pressure is reduced slowly.

Welsh billed health trusts from all over Britain £6,500 a time for treating the 37 fake victims.

The fraud was uncovered when police investigated two cases of divers from Liverpool who were supposedly treated for the bends at the decompression chamber.

One people whose named had been used told police he was a poor swimmer who never dived. Another said he gave his details to a man in a pub in Plymouth in exchange for £40.

Others said they were paid up to £200 but did not realise how their personal details would be used.

Welsh and dive instructor Brass, 43, from Liverpool, needed only the real names, addresses, dates of birth and national insurance numbers of the supposed victims to work the fraud.

Now both are facing time behind bars after being found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the NHS and to pervert the course of justice after a month-long trial at Plymouth Crown Court.

Mr Michael Fitton, QC, prosecuting, said the bogus claims of £250,000 were for 37 cases of patients allegedly treated at the hyperbaric chamber at Fort Bovisand between 1998 and 2002.

He said: 'It was very easy money from just filling in forms and making up information using personal details, and the money came in.'

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