Ian Woods, 30, worked for Devon and Dorset Adventure Holidays for more than five years, claiming to be a top instructor with the Mountain Leader Training Board, although he had no qualifications. Last year, he trained other instructors, giving some forged accreditation stickers for the board's Single-Pitch Supervisor's Award, recognising the holder as able to take groups climbing in quarries, on cliffs or abseiling towers. Still posing as an MLTB assessor, he says he taught instructors at the St Alban's Centre, Lyme Bay, where four Plymouth teenagers were killed in a canoeing accident.
Last week, at Wareham magistrates' court in Dorset, he admitted theft of Pounds 40 and posing as the holder of an MLTB Mountain Instructor Certificate, an offence under the Trades Descriptions Act. Sentence was postponed until February 7 for probation reports.
Mr Woods, from Bideford, Devon, could face a fine of Pounds 5,000 or up to six months in prison. The chairman of the bench, Walter Drax, said: "The actions which stem from this offence could well put people's lives at risk."
Dorset trading standards officers have tracked down 25 people trained by Mr Woods, some as far away as New Zealand. But there are up to five still unaware their qualifications are bogus.
The court heard that on August 15 last year Stephen Gynes, a former colleague at the Hyde House activity centre, owned by DDAH, paid Mr Woods Pounds 40 for training towards an SPSA. But Mr Gynes, a central witness in the Lyme Bay manslaughter trial, was unhappy with the training.
He had briefly taught the two instructors who led the Plymouth group, and pronounced them barely able to make such a crossing themselves. Later that year, Mr Woods gave accreditation stickers to Neil Cooper, another DDAH instructor.
Devon and Dorset's owner, Chris Reynard, had shares in Active Learning and Leisure, the firm which organised the Lyme Bay trip and which, under its new name OLL, was found guilty of manslaughter of the four pupils from Southway school. OLL's managing director, Peter Kite, was jailed for three years.
Mr Woods, now a gamekeeper, told police that DDAH never checked his qualifications: "With hindsight I knew I was wrong . . . Once I had done it, I knew I was in too deep. But it was too late."