A Major general has today become the most senior officer to be jailed at a court martial in over 200 years for cheating taxpayers out of nearly £50,000 in private school fees.
Major General Nick Welch has been jailed at Bulford Military Court for 21 months after he was convicted of fraud by falsely claiming more than £48,000 in allowance to pay for his children’s boarding school fees.
The 57-year-old had claimed he and his wife Charlotte, 54, were living in Putney, South-West London while he served as Assistant Chief of the General Staff in Whitehall.
Welch, who earned a ‘lofty’ £120,000-a-year salary, used the military’s ‘Continuity of Education Allowance’ to put his two children through private schools in Dorset.
Mrs Welch, a freelance consultant, in fact spent the majority of her time at the family’s £800,000 country home in Blandford Forum, Dorset, the military court in Wiltshire heard.
Welch was caught after an anonymous tip from neighbours claimed he and his wife were never at their London address.
But the complaint was dismissed at the time by Mrs Welch, who told her friend in a text message: ‘Perhaps they are daunted by Nick’s rank, all of their husbands are two or three ranks below.’
As well as the custodial sentence to be served in a civilian prison, Welch was retrospectively dismissed from the Army, meaning he will not be able to benefit from the rank of retired major general.
He was also ordered to pay back the fraudulently claimed money.
Major General Nick Welch has been jailed at Bulford Military Court for 21 months
Major General Nick Welch falsely claimed £48,000 to pay for his children’s boarding schools
Major General Nick Welch: Glittering career of the retired British Army officer awarded OBE in 2006
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 7th 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 of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps.
In 2015, he became Assistant Chief of the General Staff, 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 until 2018.
He retired from the military a year later to enter the private sector, becoming Chief Operating Officer of Bournemouth Arts University, Dorset.
Welch retired a two star general in 2019, having served in Afghanistan, Germany, Northern Ireland and Belize.
Judge Advocate General Alan Large said the panel of senior officers sentenced Welch, who is the most senior officer to face court martial since 1815, ‘on the basis the defendant behaved dishonestly throughout’.
Judge Large told Welch today: ‘The board was sure that from the start of the indictment period that firstly, you were not serving accompanied as required by the regulations and secondly, you acted dishonestly when you failed to inform your chain of command.’
He added: ‘A disciplined organisation such as the Army relies on those in rank and authority to set an example and to be beyond reproach.
‘The higher your rank, the more important it is that you uphold the values and standards of the Army in which you serve and when an officer of the rank of major general offends as you have, the potential to erode discipline and undermine morale is considerable.
‘We have no doubt you understand that your rank of major general and role as the assistant chief of general staff are factors which aggravate the offence and require recognition in the sentence.’
The court heard that Welch had joined the Army in 1984 and had served for more than 33 years when he retired in 2018 from his position as the assistant chief of general staff at Ministry of Defence (MoD) headquarters in London.
He had been awarded a number of medals, including for his service in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and for long service with good conduct.
Judge Large said: ‘In stark contrast to the events leading to your conviction in this trial, you had a highly successful military career, served your country with distinction on operations and you were a fine ambassador for your service and nation.’
The verdict means Welch, who was previously awarded the OBE, is the most senior officer to be found guilty at a court martial since Lt Gen John Murray in 1815.
Lt Gen Murray was hauled before a military court in Winchester accused abandoning 18 siege guns during the siege of Tarragona in 1813.
He was found guilty of a single charge ‘that he unnecessarily abandoned a considerable quantity of artillery and stores’, and admonished by the court.
The court martial panel took five hours to find Welch guilty of a single count of fraud yesterday. He stood stony faced and showed no emotion as the verdict was delivered.
The four-week trial heard that Welch lied about how much time he and his wife spent at their Dorset home, just 15 minutes’ drive from his children’s schools.
The 57-year-old, pictured in Afghanistan with then-Prime Minister David Cameron, had denied fraud
He claimed £48,388 between December 2015 and February 2017 to put them through the £37,000-a-year Clayesmore School and £22,500-a-year Hanford School.
After Colonel Jeremy Lamb complained to the Army, Welch ordered his wife to drive up to London the following morning.
The court heard Mrs Welch promised to put on a show of living at the property and would be ‘out and about and very sociable all week’.
Mrs Welch was said to only spend around one in three days at the residence in Putney.
The Continuity of Education Allowance is offered by the Ministry of Defence to help fund 90 per cent of the education of military families’ children when they relocate on assignment, as long as their spouses live with them, a practice known as ‘serving accompanied’.
Welch had denied being dishonest and said he believed that 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 the MoD administrators.
Welch was 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’.
Miss Jones said: ‘Nick Welch is a 57-year-old man, the pride of whose life was to be an officer in the British Army. He did the job, and had a vocation to do it, to an extraordinary standard and with care and concern.’
Describing the impact of the sentence, she said: ‘It will shake the foundations of the man and what he has achieved and what he has failed in two things he cared about most, for his career is brought to an ignominious end and his family life has been shattered as his children are distraught and his wife puts a brave face on things.’
Maj Gen Nick Welch claimed he thought he satisfied the ‘underlying principles’ of the allowance rules as long as he and Charlotte Welch ‘endeavoured to be together’
Welch (pictured in 2014), told the hearing that his understanding of the rules was that his wife had to be staying where he was staying in order to comply with the definition of accompanied service
Prosecutor Sarah Clarke told the court that Welch used his rank to deceive the Army as ‘who is going to question the word of a Major General?’
He has since taken a post as chief operating officer of Bournemouth Arts University.
But today the university said Welch had left his post as chief operating officer ‘with immediate effect.’
How Lieutenant General Sir John Murray was convicted in 1815 of abandoning his seige guns without due cause in Napoleonic Wars
Lieutenant General Sir John Murray was convicted of abandoning his siege guns without due cause in the Napoleonic wars.
His 1815 trial at Winchester, Hampshire, took place two years after the shambolic siege of Tarragona in southern Spain.
The siege ended his distinguished military career.
Lieutenant General Sir John Murray was convicted of abandoning his siege guns without due cause during the shambolic siege of Tarragona in southern Spain
In 1813, Duke of Wellington ordered Murray to use 16,000 troops to capture the Spanish port of Tarragona.
In 1813, Duke of Wellington ordered Murray to use 16,000 troops to capture the Spanish port of Tarragona (the battle, pictured)
Murray surrounded the port and the Franco-Italian army of just 1,600 men retreated inside its inner defences.
Rather than storm it, Murray chose to use his guns to reduce them by siege.
But he panicked when he heard rumours of a large number of advancing French troops.
He cancelled a planned attack and withdrew his entire force onto waiting ships.
He abandoned 18 heavy siege cannons and issued a series of orders which apparently confused and enraged Rear-Admiral Benjamin Hallowell Carew.
Days later, Murray was relieved of his command.
After the war ended in 1814, Murray was court-martialled and found guilty of abandoning his guns without due cause and admonished by the court.
Murray was also a Tory MP, representing the Dorset constituency of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis between 1811 and 1818.
He died in October 1827 at the age of 59.
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