United Kingdom

Wife of major general accused of fraud blamed claims on jealous spouse of lower ranked officer

A Major General's wife has blamed school fee fraud claims against her husband on jealous spouses of lower officers, a court martial has heard.  

Maj Gen Nick Welch, who allegedly swindled £50,000 to send his children to private schools, was placed under investigation after a tip off from a soldier's wife.

The neighbour complained that - despite he and his wife Charlotte claiming to be living together in their London home - the couple were rarely there at the same time.

This meant they were allegedly in breach of rules allowing them to claim public money for their children's school fees.

Maj Gen Welch is said to have 'dishonestly' told the Army his wife would be living with him at his new London residence, which meant he could claim taxpayers' money for two of his children to board in Dorset.

In fact, 54-year-old Mrs Welch spent most of her time at their £800,000 country home in Blandford Forum near the schools, prosecutors say.

A military court, where Maj Gen Welch is the most senior Army officer to be hauled before a judge in 200 years, today heard that after the complaint was made Mrs Welch immediately dashed up from the family home with a promise to be 'very sociable all week'.

Later, she expressed her confusion over why someone would complain about them.

Freelance consultant Mrs Welch, who is accused of spending 'most of her time' at their Dorset home close to their children's private schools, said she was 'trying to understand why they have done it'.

'Perhaps they are daunted by Nick's rank, all of their husbands are two or three ranks below', Mrs Welch said in a text message to a friend.

Maj Gen Nick Welch (pictured), who allegedly swindled £50,000 to send his children to private schools, was placed under investigation after a tip off from a soldier's wife 

The anonymous neighbour's complaint led to Maj Gen Welch's landmark court martial. 

The 57-year-old is the most senior Army officer to be hauled before a judge since 1815.

Bulford Military Court, Wilts, has heard he duped taxpayers out of £48,388 by illegally claiming Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA) for 15 months from 2015 to 2017. He denies one count of fraud.

Under CEA rules, the two-star general's family had to live with him in Putney, London, while he worked at MoD HQ but the court has heard Mrs Welch spent most of her time at their £800,000 Blandford Forum home, Dorset, near their children's schools.

Prosecutor Sarah Clarke QC read to the court a series of messages from Mrs Welch to her friends, in which she suggests her husband's rank 'daunted' the anonymous complainer.

In one, she said: 'The saddest thing is that one of my London neighbours reported us.

'I have been away a lot recently so I have not been doing the coffee mornings and showing my face.

'I'm trying to put my feet in their shoes to understand why they have done it.

'Perhaps they are daunted by Nick's rank, all of their husbands are two or three ranks below.'

Another said: 'Nick has just been told about the small print in the latest Army regulations which say I can only be away from the house for 90 days so I have just had to dash back up here.'

She also said: 'I always thought that if Nick was not at home I didn't have to be there. I thought that spending weekends in Dorset was allowed.'

Maj Gen Welch (pictured) denies one count of fraud

Ms Clarke said the anonymous complaint had been filed to Army housing workers, questioning why the four-bedroom property was often empty 'at a time of housing austerity'.

The prosecutor also told the court that, having received the complaint late one evening in February 2017, Maj Gen Welch ordered his wife to hurry to London from Dorset the following morning.

She said: 'Early in the morning Charlotte texted Welch 'good morning my love, I'm up and about, I'll ring you when I'm done'.

'Then a phone call from Welch was made at 7.01, which lasted five minutes. Then another which lasted two minutes.

'At 8.47, Charlotte said to Welch 'on my way handsome'.'

Maj Gen later said 'thank you for driving, I love you' and after arriving, Mrs Welch sent a message to her husband revealing her plans to make sure her presence was seen.

It said: 'Beeped my horn really loudly as I went in. Not really, but I'll be out and about being very sociable all week.'

Ms Clarke said: 'It's clearly the case that during these two phone calls he said to her 'look, you need to get up to London because there's been a complaint'.

'That's why she gets straight in the car and says she's going to beep her horn on the way in and going to be social, clearly to give the impression that they were living in London.

'The balloon's gone up and he realises that something has to be done about it.'

Maj Gen Welch quizzed colleagues as to where the complaint 'originated from' and said he'd check his diary to make sure he was 'whiter than white'.

'I'm comfortable that I'm well inside the rules, clearly in my position I need to make sure I am', Maj Gen Welch said in one email. 

It has been heard he was 'well aware' of the rules as he had been claiming CEA for years.

Ms Clarke accused him of trying to 'head-off' an investigation by writing an email suggesting he was not aware he breached rules and later told investigators the Blandford home was mainly visited 'for maintenance'.

She also told the panel that a year into Maj Gen Welch owning the London property, Maj Gen Welch's boarding school child - who was supposed to live at the home while not at school - didn't event know its address.

Meanwhile, the officer's defence barrister claimed Maj Gen Welch was the target of a 'invidious prosecution' which has been 'painted as a national scandal'.

Sarah Jones QC, defending the two-star general, described him as a 'leader of men and women' who served the Army 'well and for a long time'.

Ms Jones QC suggested Maj Gen Welch did not act dishonestly and said the nature of his mobile role at the MoD made it hard to establish how to apply the rules to him.

She said Mrs Welch ordered 'every single aspect' of the family's life so the Army 'had the best of him'.

Bulford Military Court, Wilts (pictured), has heard he duped taxpayers out of £48,388 by illegally claiming Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA) for 15 months from 2015 to 2017. He denies one count of fraud

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'.

Addressing the panel with a brief speech after the prosecution opening, Ms Jones QC urged them to consider if prosecutor Sarah Jones QC had done enough to convince them that Maj Gen Welch had behaved dishonestly.

She said: 'Have the prosecution proved that someone who served the Army as well and as long as he did, a leader of men and women, acted dishonestly?

'Did that man set out to deceive? Did he ask his wife to deceive? Did he embroil his children in what has been painted as a national scandal?

'Did he pretend to be somewhere he was or wasn't? Did he hide anything? What lies, if any, did he tell?'

She also said: 'The invidious nature of this prosecution means you might have to consider his life and his marriage.

'Whatever distaste you might feel about this intrusion, was this man serving accompanied in the ordinary meaning of these words?

'Did this man and his wife seek to be together whenever they could?

'Whenever the demands of his service allowed?

'Did Charlotte order every single aspect of his family life so that he could serve the Army as best as he could, did she support so they have the best of him?

'And if she did, should that be punished?'

Ms Jones QC said the panel should consider that the nature of Maj Gen Welch's senior job, which saw him frequently travel, made it hard to apply CEA rules.

She said: 'Does his position make it especially different to apply or understand the rules in how they might apply to him?

'Not that he is somehow elevated by reason of his rank, which could see him abuse the rules, as the prosecution seem to want to make it appear.

'If he was required to spend a chunk of time in London, and a chunk of his time in Andover at Army headquarters, then it prescribed where he should be spending his working time.

'If it's not clear for him then is it clear where she should be, if the point is that she should be accompanying him for accompanied service?'

Ms Jones QC cast doubt on how 'clear' the rules of CEA are.

She said: 'Can they make you sure there is a single consistently applied set of rules that are clearly set out and can be easily understood?

'Or will the evidence show that the methods are a mess, that so-called experts in the field, who make it their daily grind, so help them, even disagree fundamentally.

'Even these people cannot agree on a decision on what should or should not be allowed. These calculations often are calculated after the event, from a position of hindsight.'

Prosecutor Sarah Clarke QC, when bringing her opening to a close, said Maj Gen Welch lied about living arrangements because 'he didn't want to curtail his family's lifestyle.. and that's dishonest'.

Maj Gen Welch denies one count of fraud.

The trial continues. 

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