AFTER Bill Bowell was accused of a crime he did not commit, he went into a 12-year spiral of depression - until he met Simo the dolphin.

Now Bill, 64, of Bridge Street, Osney, Oxford, tours the country preaching how swimming with dolphins freed his tormented mind.

His remarkable tale began in 1974 when he had a heart attack on his wife Edna's birthday. He took time off work at the Golden Egg restaurant, on George Street, Oxford, to recover, but was called in to work a shift unexpectedly.

He did the shift and returned home - only to find out the next day that the restaurant's takings had gone missing.

Bill was naturally concerned about the lost £1,000. But his concern turned to horror when police accused him of theft and he was locked in a cell while they investigated.

He said: "I was absolutely shocked because I knew I had nothing to do with it. I was taken down to the police station and when they locked the cell door it was frightening.

"They took my tie off and shoe laces off and threw me into the cell all day.

"I was crying out for help, being penned into a small room."

Bill was released later that day, went home and collapsed. The next month was a complete blur - he does not know to this day what happened to him. He could not eat or even dress himself. He was a wreck. When his case eventually came to court his life became even worse. He had to stand in the dock and defend himself of a crime he knew he did not do.

While the jury discussed their verdict, poor Bill even emptied his pockets of his belongings and gave them to his wife. He was convinced he was going to jail.

When the jury found him not guilty, Bill shouted "Oh God, thank God" and collapsed in the courtroom.

By his own admission, he endured 12 months of hell afterwards.

"From then onwards I could not walk the streets on my own. I was too frightened," he said.

Doctors pumped him with Valium. He tried hypnosis and saw psychiatrists in a bid to cure his chronic depression, to no avail.

After 12 horrific years, Edna decided to book a holiday in a last-ditch attempt to get "her old Bill" back. They went to Solva, in South Wales, with the family, and it was there they bumped into a doctor researching dolphins.

Bill had never seen a dolphin, apart from "Flipper" on television.

But when he joined Dr Horace Dobbs on a boat destined to see Simo the dolphin, something very special happened. He said with a lump in his throat: "I was completely linked up to the dolphin. I got into the water and that dolphin came up to me whining. He was saying to me, 'Come and share my lonely world. He was saying, 'You need me and I need you'."

From that day forward Bill was a changed man.

"For 12 years I was in a hell of a deep pit. But the magic he gave me was fantastic. Just after I left Simo went and has never been seen again."

After that revelation in 1986, Bill met a dolphin called Funghie in Ireland. It helped Bill's therapy to feel no pressure for a while.

In the ocean, there were no doctors poking questions. It was just him and a dolphin.

Bill was Dr Dobbs' guinea pig. Now Bill lectures to doctors and researchers about his remarkable experiences.

He said with a smile: "If they could bottle dolphins there would be no need for tablets. I am living proof that I was cured by a dolphin.

"What annoys me is people making money from people swimming with dolphins for fun. There are millions of people who cannot get to see a dolphin.

"I feel they are sent on a mission to contact with people like myself."

He still has two burning ambitions - to swim with a hump-backed whale and to help people out of depression.

Bill has a newspaper delivery service in Oxford. He never stops moving, working, talking and laughing.

He only sleeps about two hours a day now, to make up for all those lost years. Doc spotted a link TOP doctor Horace Dobbs has spent 20 years researching a link between dolphins and humans.

He founded International Dolphin Watch in 1978, although it was not until he met Bill Bowell that he became convinced they could help chronic depressives.

He said: "Dolphins have got brains as big as ours and they have got the potential for intelligence as big as ours. They do not put demands on us. If you are in depression it is a defence mechanism against all the pressures your peers put upon you.

"A lot of people feel this sense of unconditional love when they get into the water with dolphins."

Dr Dobbs could not believe the transformation in Bill after his meeting with Simo the dolphin, and later with Funghie in Ireland.

He said dolphins, who are roughly 13 million years older than humans, are probably the nearest thing

to humans, in terms of potential intelligence, on the planet.

Dr Dobbs also has an Oxford link. In 1963 he was one of Britain's pioneering undersea explorers and researchers, founding the Oxford Underwater Research Group.

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