Major General becomes highest ranking Army officer to be convicted at court martial for 200 years after he was found guilty of fraudulently claiming £48k to pay his children’s private school fees
- Major General Nick Welch, 57, abused Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA)
- Sent 2 of his children to the £37,000-a-year Clayesmore School and £22,500-a-year Hanford School, both in Dorset
- Maj Gen Welch lied to Army that they were living in military quarters in London
- They in fact spent most time at their Dorset home, breaching allowance rules
A Major General has become the most-senior officer to be convicted at a court martial since 1815 after he was found guilty of fraudulently claiming £48,000.
Major General Nick Welch, 57, claimed the funds to send two of his children to £37,000-a-year and £22,500-a-year private boarding schools in Dorset, Bulford Military Court heard.
The two-star general – who left the military in 2018 – had applied for the allowance on the basis that both he and his wife lived in military quarters in London, and therefore were not close to children’s schools.
But they in fact spent most of their time at their £800,000 Dorset home.
Maj Gen Welch had denied fraud but was today convicted of abusing the Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA) in claiming the cash.
He will be sentenced ‘accordingly’ to the severity of the fraud he committed, a Ministry of Defence spokesperson said.
Major General Nick Welch, 57, claimed £48,000 to send two of his children to the £37,000-a-year Clayesmore School and £22,500-a-year Hanford School, both in Dorset, Bulford Military Court heard
The 57-year-old, pictured in Afghanistan with then-Prime Minister David Cameron, denied fraud
Who is Major General Nick Welch?
Major General Nick Welch left the Army in 2018 after an illustrious career which spanned more than three decades.
He joined the military as a Second Lieutenant in 1984, eventually rising through the ranks to become a two star general.
In that time he served as Commander of the The Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire regiment and of the 7 Armoured Brigade based in Bergen-Hohne, Germany.
Maj Gen Welch was awarded with the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in recognition of ‘gallant and distinguished services in the former Yugoslavia’ in 2005 and received his OBE in 2006.
He has served in Afghanistan – where he was second in command of British and US troops in Helmand province – Germany, Northern Ireland and Belize.
In 2014 he was appointed Chief of Staff, Allied Rapid Reaction Corps and then Assistant Chief of the General Staff in 2015, the highest ranking Army officer working in the Ministry of Defence in London.
In this role Maj Gen Welch would have been earning around £120,000 a year.
He held this post from until 2018 and then retired from the military a year later to enter the private sector, becoming Chief Operating Officer of Bournemouth Arts University, Dorset.
Several former high ranking Army officers gave evidence to speak highly of Maj Gen Welch’s character during the court martial, including General Sir Richard Barrons, former Commander of Britain’s Joint Forces Command.
He told the court he first met Maj Gen Welch in 1997 while working for the General Chief of Staff.
He said: ‘I got to know him very well personally and professionally.
‘I established that he was a committed and diligent officer. He was wedded to the Army as a profession and a vocation.
‘My reaction [to the charges against Maj Gen Welch] is one of complete astonishment.
‘At no time in my association with Nick Welch have I ever had any cause to question his honesty and integrity.’
General Sir Kevin O’Donoghue, who served the Army for more than 40 years and was Chief of Defence Materiel, said in a statement: ‘In that sort of time you learn to judge people and I have a lot of time for Nick Welch.
‘Nick Welch was a very good commanding officer, a good leader and there was never any reason to question his integrity.
‘I think of Nick Welch as somebody who is totally honest, upright, straight up sort of chap. I trusted him implicitly, no question in my mind that he couldn’t be trusted.’
Lieutenant General Sir Simon Mayall, who was Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff and a prominent Middle East Adviser at the MoD, added in his statement: ‘I believe he has a very good moral compass. He was very committed to the army and was very trustworthy.
‘He was well spoken of and well respected by his peers, superiors and subordinates.
‘I had no doubts about his professional and personal integrity. I regarded him as a very honourable soldier.’
Maj Gen Welch – who has a glittering career and an OBE – is the most senior officer to face a court martial since 1815, when a Lieutenant General was convicted during the Napoleonic wars.
Maj Gen Welch was Assistant Chief of the General Staff based at the Ministry of Defence’s headquarters in London.
He claimed the CEA to allow two of his children to stay at £37,000-a-year Clayesmore School and £22,500-a-year Hanford School between December 2015 and February 2017.
The payment – which covers 90 per cent of fees – is aimed at allowing children of service personnel to remain at the same schools to enable their serving parent to be accompanied by their spouse as they are posted to different locations.
He claimed he couldn’t afford the school fees by himself, even on his ‘lofty’ salary of £120,000 a year.
Meanwhile his wife claimed the neighbour who reported them must have done so as he was ‘daunted’ by her husband’s rank.
Following five hours of deliberations, Maj Gen Welch gave no reaction and stood stony faced as a panel of board members found him guilty of fraud.
The four-week trial heard the general had ‘deliberately manipulated the numbers’ to mislead military police about how much time wife Charlotte Welch had spent in London from December 2015 to February 2017.
To conform to the allowance rules, freelance consultant Mrs Welch, 54, could only spend 90 days away from the London address in a year.
The court heard that Maj Gen Welch was reported to the Army by Colonel Jeremy Lamb because he and other ‘irate’ neighbours never saw him at their London home.
‘Frustrated’ Col Lamb said he never saw the senior officer or his wife at the London property in the 15 month period in which the married couple were supposed to be living there.
The court heard that – the day after the complaint was made – Mrs Welch rushed to London.
She messaged her husband stating she had arrived at their home and joked that she had ‘beeped her horn very loudly all the way in’.
She added that she would be ‘out and about and very sociable all week’.
Mrs Welch blamed the spouse of a lower ranked officer for blowing the whistle on them, messaging a friend saying: ‘Perhaps they are daunted by Nick’s rank, all of their husbands are two or three ranks below.’
During the trial, Maj Gen Welch denied he had asked his wife to ‘make an impression’ on the neighbours and insisted that they believed they were still within the 90 day rule.
He told the court he thought he satisfied the ‘underlying principles’ and ‘spirit’ of the allowance rules as long as he and his wife ‘endeavoured to be together’.
He said in his evidence: ‘We didn’t believe that we were outside the [allowance] rules.
‘At the time we didn’t know that spending more time away from the [London home] put us outside the rules, that was our genuine belief.
‘She placed herself with me, she tried to be with me as often as possible to accompany me as much as possible.
‘That was my understanding at the time [that as long as Mrs Welch was with him it counted as serving accompanied].’
His calculations of how many days his wife had spent away from London were shown to the court, but prosecutor Sarah Clarke QC said they were ‘significantly lower’ than the true number.
The number would have been clear from the various calendars and diaries available to him.
She told Maj Gen Welch: ‘You deliberately manipulated the numbers to reduce them as much as you thought you could get away with.
‘You and your wife were trying to do all you could to knock these numbers down.’
Maj Gen Welch had denied one count of fraud.
Due to his high rank, the court had difficulties trying to find a six or seven person panel senior enough to hear the case.
Court martial protocol states the president of the panel should be at least two ranks higher than the defendant, requiring a full General for this case.
Maj Gen Welch (pictured) had denied fraud but was today convicted of abusing the Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA) in claiming the cash
However the panel was instead made up of a retired Major General, a Rear Admiral, a retired Air Vice Marshall, two Commodores and a Brigadier.
There was even a civilian member of the board – a civil servant – which is highly uncommon in court martial proceedings.
An MoD spokeswoman said: ‘If a service person has been reported to the Royal Military Police because it is believed they have committed a crime it is only right that it is investigated fully and the results of the investigation are presented to the Service Prosecuting Authority.
‘It has been proven in this case that the retired Major General Nicholas Welch OBE did commit fraud and therefore he will be sentenced accordingly.’
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