A “dishonest” senior Army officer has been jailed for 21 months for falsely claiming more than £48,000 in allowances to pay for his children’s boarding school fees.
Major General Nick Welch was convicted of a single charge of fraud following a four-week court martial trial at Bulford Military Court.
The court was told the 57-year-old two star general, who left the military in 2018, had applied for the allowance on the basis that both he and his wife, Charlotte, would not be living close to the children’s schools in Dorset.
But the prosecution stated that Mrs Welch, 54, actually spent most of her time at the family’s cottage in Blandford Forum, Dorset, close to the two schools rather than at their allocated military accommodation in Putney, London.
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”.
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.
Judge Large said: “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 Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA) was claimed by Welch to allow his children to stay at the £37,000-a-year Clayesmore School and the £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.
The CEA rules state that the 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 the authorities about the Welch family’s absence from the London home.
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.”
She added that Welch was remorseful and he acknowledged “he had not taken enough care”.
But prosecutor Sarah Clarke QC accused Welch of lying and “attempting to manipulate” the figures regarding his family’s locations in order to cover up his dishonesty.
She said the fraud had been an “abuse of position, trust and responsibility” but said the defendant had “no previous convictions of any kind”.