A 53-YEAR-OLD man who defrauded the Western Health Trust out of over £9,000 by submitting travel claims for taxi journeys he didn’t make has been sentenced to four months in jail.

Vincent Barlow, of Blunnick Road, Florencecourt, was charged with fraud by false representation between January 21, 2013 and April 16, 2015, as well as a further charge of resisting arrest on December 2, 2015.

Barlow had denied both offences, but was convicted after a contest heard before Fermanagh Magistrates Court in January this year.

When he appeared in court for sentencing on Monday, district judge Nigel Broderick observed that, given the “significant” amount of money defrauded, a custodial term was merited.

After a four-month jail term was imposed, the defendant was granted his own bail of £500 and released from custody pending an appeal.

Speaking after the hearing, Donna Scott, Assistant Director of Counter Fraud and Probity Services of the Business Services Organisation, said the amount of money dishonestly obtained could have been used for 10 cataract eye procedures.

She said: “Vincent Barlow’s actions were blatantly fraudulent and at a time when health service budgets face significant challenges any loss of resources to fraud is going to impact on services.

“This sentence should send a clear message that fraud against the health service will not be tolerated.”

The court on Monday heard that police received a report from the Western Trust about suspicious travel claims made by the defendant under the Hospital Travel Cost Scheme, which reimburses patients who use taxis to attend health appointments.

Barlow defrauded the Trust out of a total of £9,083 between 2013 and 2015.

The defendant had been attending appointments at the South West Acute Hospital on a weekly basis and claiming that he had been getting a taxi to and from his home.

At an earlier hearing, it emerged that Barlow had submitted around 250 false claims for journeys from his home to the hospital by presenting fictitious receipts from a taxi firm.

However, suspicions were raised after the receipts he presented were from a taxi firm in Lisburn, roughly a 140-mile round trip from Florencecourt.

During an internal investigation by the Trust, the owner of the taxi firm was spoken to and he denied setting a fare to Enniskillen, as alleged.

Defending counsel, Ciaran Roddy, told the court that the travel scheme was capable of being exploited and the court had found that his client “did just do that”.

The barrister conceded that Barlow’s offending had been aggravated by the length of time over which it had occurred and the lack of remorse shown.

He revealed that the defendant still maintained he was not guilty.

Mr. Roddy also told the court that the 53 year old, who is in receipt of benefits, was not in a position to pay the money back to the Trust.

In mitigation, he said that Barlow had been diagnosed with a complex psychiatric condition after a “catastrophic incident”.

The barrister said that his client had been taking significant medication since 2009 and had been advised to cease driving.

Mr. Roddy said that the defendant had not been in court before his 50th birthday, and attributed his recent criminal record to a number of stressors in his life that were not present before.

He said that Barlow claimed to have suffered an “emotional breakdown” at the time of the offending.