United Kingdom

British Army major general stands trial accused of illegally claiming £50k for children's school fee

The most senior Army officer to face a court martial in more than 200 years today stood trial accused of defrauding the taxpayer out of almost £50,000 to pay for his children's private school fees.

Major General Nick Welch, 57, allegedly abused Army allowances when he took on the top job at the Ministry of Defence's London headquarters.

A military court heard the two-star general, earning about £120,000 a year, told the Army that his wife Charlotte would be living at his new London residence - which meant he could claim an allowance for his children's education.

In fact she spent most of her time at their £800,000 country home while they boarded at schools nearby, the prosecution said. 

One child was sent to the £37,000 a year Clayesmore School while another went to the £22,500 Hanford School. 

Welch has become the most senior officer to face a court martial since 1815, when a Lieutenant General was convicted during the Napoleonic wars.

Major General Nick Welch, 57, allegedly abused Army allowances when he took on the top job at the Ministry of Defence's London headquarters

Maj Gen Welch, who has a glittering career and an OBE, is accused of swindling just over £48,000 in education allowance over a period of 15 months from December 2015 to February 2017.

The first day of his four-week trial at Bulford Military Court, Wiltshire, heard Maj Gen Welch and his family had been living in Gloucestershire in 2015 when he was appointed Assistant Chief of the General Staff.

As part of the role, the father of three became the most senior officer at MoD HQ and had to relocate to a four-bed family quarters home in Putney, London.

Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA) is offered to soldiers to help fund 90 per cent of their child's education when they relocate on assignment, as long as their family live with them, a practice known as 'serving accompanied'.

A military court heard the two-star general, earning about £120,000 a year, told the Army that his wife Charlotte would be living at his new London residence - which meant he could claim an allowance for his children's education

However, it was heard after Maj Gen Welch told the Army his family would be living with him, his wife spent most of her time at their large cottage near Blandford Forum, Dorset, while his children boarded at two Dorset schools. 

Mrs Welch, 54, who only visited London for work and social calls, texted her friend that she could see Hanford from her cottage window and it was heard her officer husband spent every weekend at the home.

Opening the case, prosecutor Sarah Clarke QC said: 'Very rarely were they in London, it was not being used as the family home.

'It was in fact a convenient second property - and that's very nice, but that's not what CEA is about and if that was the case then Welch was not entitled to CEA.

Opening the case, prosecutor Sarah Clarke QC (pictured) said: 'Very rarely were they in London, it was not being used as the family home'

'He should not have been claiming the allowance. He had a duty to inform of any risk that his family was failing to satisfy the CEA rules.

'And he does not dispute that. At no point did he raise a red flag and tell them.'  

She said an investigation showed Mrs Welch, who did freelance work in London on occasion, spent less than 10 per cent of Fridays over the 15 month period in London and zero Saturdays.

The longest period she spent in London was five days, which only happened on three occasions.

Ms Clarke QC said: 'The whereabouts of Welch's wife are the most important piece of evidence.

'If she is supposed to be living with him in London but spending more time elsewhere than that, the prosecution submits, that means Welch was not serving accompanied.

'It was not being used as the family home. The same applies to the children, particularly the youngest as they were too young to be at home on their own.'

Maj Gen Welch also breached CEA rules by having his children stay at the Blandford home at weekends, as - aside from a few permitted occasions - boarding children must stay at their school.

Ms Clarke QC said Maj Gen Welch first claimed CEA in 2007 for his eldest child. She said: 'He has been signing up to CEA repeatedly since 2007 so there can't be any doubt that he's not fully familiar with the rules.'

It was heard one late evening in February 2017, when Maj Gen Welch heard he received a complaint about his alleged fraud, he had his wife hurry up to London.

Ms Clarke QC said: 'He spoke to his wife the following morning and asked her to change the plans she made to stay in Blandford for the week and instead stay in Putney.

'She cancelled her plans, drove up and spent the week going out and about being seen and being visible in the local area.

'It shows a demonstrable change in the family's pattern of life.'

Ms Clarke QC said without CEA a private education would have been 'beyond the means' of soldiers including Maj Gen Welch.

His MoD role would have seen him earn around £120,000 a year.

Maj Gen Welch has also previously been Chief of Staff, Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, and second in command of British and US troops in Helmand, Afghanistan and has served in Germany, Northern Ireland and Belize.

He left the army in 2019 and took up a new role as Chief Operating Officer of the Bournemouth Arts University, Dorset.

Maj Gen Welch is the the highest ranking officer to face court martial since Lieutenant General Sir John Murray was convicted of abandoning his siege guns without due cause in the Napoleonic wars.

Murray was tried at Winchester, two years after the shambolic siege of Tarragona in southern Spain, during the Peninsula campaign.

Maj Gen Welch's trial continues. 

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