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General convicted of dishonestly claiming £48,000

Retired Maj Gen Nick Welch
PHOTO: US DoD Mj Gen Nick Welch

A senior Army officer has been found guilty of dishonestly claiming £48,000 in allowances to pay for his children’s boarding school fees.

Major General Nick Welch, understood to be the most senior officer to face court martial since 1815, was convicted of fraud by a panel of senior officers following a four-week court martial trial at Bulford Military Court.

The court was told that the 57-year-old two-star general, who left the military in 2018, had applied for the allowance on the basis that he and his wife Charlotte would not be living close to the children’s schools in Dorset.

The Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA) was claimed to allow their 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% 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.

But the prosecution said Mrs Welch, 54, spent most of her time at the cottage in Blandford Forum, Dorset, close to the two schools, rather than at their allocated military accommodation in Putney, south-west London.

CEA rules say a spouse must not be away from the residence at work address (RWA) for more than 90 days per year.

The investigation was launched in February 2017 after a neighbour alerted authorities about the Welch family’s absence from the London home.

Welch had denied being dishonest and said he believed he had complied with the requirements of accompanied service because his wife was living with him for the majority of the time.

His barrister, Sarah Jones QC, argued the CEA system and the 90-day rule were a “mess” and not strictly enforced by Ministry of Defence (MoD) administrators.

Welch was also given character references by senior military commanders including former Commander Joint Forces Command, General Sir Richard Barrons, who said he believed the defendant was of “unimpeachable integrity”.

But prosecutor Sarah Clarke QC accused Welch of lying and “attempting to manipulate” the figures regarding his family’s locations to cover up his dishonesty.

The court martial panel consisted of a retired major general, a rear admiral, a retired air vice marshal, two commodores, a brigadier and a civil servant.

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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David Harber

David Harber is the founder and Managing Director of Love Andover, including the Love Andover Observer newspaper and 95.9FM Andover Radio. He is a fellow at the Royal Society of Arts and a card carrying member of the Nation Union of Journalists.