A ‘dishonest’ senior military officer has been jailed for 21 months for falsely claiming over £ 48,000 in compensation to pay his children’s boarding costs.
Major-General Nick Welch has been convicted of a single charge of fraud following a four-week court martial at Bulford Military Court.
The court heard that the 57-year-old two-star general, who left the military in 2018, had applied for the allowance on the grounds that he and his wife, Charlotte, would not live near Dorset children’s schools.
But the prosecution said Ms Welch, 54, had actually spent most of her time at the family’s cottage in Blandford Forum, Dorset, near the two schools rather than their military accommodation in Putney London.
A disciplined organization like the Army relies on those of rank and authority to lead by example and be faultless
Judge Advocate General Alan Large said the panel of senior officers convicted Welch, who is the most senior officer to appear before a court martial since 1815, “on the basis that the accused behaved dishonestly throughout “.
In addition to the custodial sentence to be served in a civilian prison, Welch was retrospectively discharged from the military, meaning he will not be eligible for the rank of retired major general.
He was also ordered to reimburse the money fraudulently claimed.
Judge Large said: “The Board was satisfied that from the start of the charge period, firstly, you were not on accompanied service as required by the regulations and secondly, you acted dishonestly when you were not on duty. have not informed your chain of command. “
He added, “A disciplined organization like the military relies on those with the rank and authority to lead by example and be blameless.
“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 commits an offense like you did, the potential eroding discipline and undermining morale is considerable. .
“We have no doubt that you understand that your rank of Major General and your role as Deputy Chief of Staff are factors which aggravate the offense and require recognition in the sentence.”
The court heard that Welch joined the military in 1984 and served for more than 33 years when he retired in 2018 from his post as Deputy Chief of Staff at Defense Ministry headquarters (MoD ) in London.
He had received a number of medals, notably for his service in Northern Ireland in Afghanistan and for his long service with good conduct.
Judge Large said: “Contrary to the events leading up to your conviction in this trial, you have had a very successful military career, you have served your country with distinction in operations and you have been an excellent ambassador for your service. and your nation. “
The Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA) was claimed by Welch to allow his children to stay at Clayesmore School of £ 37,000 per year and Hanford School of £ 22,500 per year between December 2015 and February 2017.
The payment, which covers 90% of the cost, is intended to allow children of military personnel to stay in the same schools to allow their parent on duty to be accompanied by their spouse when posted to different locations.
CEA rules state that the spouse must not be absent from the work residence address (RWA) for more than 90 days per year.
The investigation was launched in February 2017 after a neighbor alerted authorities to the absence of the Welch family from the London home.
Welch denied being dishonest and said he believed he complied with the requirements for escorted service because his wife lived with him most of the time.
His lawyer, Sarah Jones QC, argued that the CEA system and the 90-day rule were a “mess” and were not strictly enforced by Department of Defense administrators.
Welch has received personality references from senior military commanders, including the former Commander of the Joint Forces Command, General Sir Richard Barrons, who said he believed the accused to be of “impeccable integrity”.
Miss Jones said: ‘Nick Welch is a 57 year old man whose life pride was to be an officer in the British Army.
“He did the job, and had a calling to do it, to an extraordinary level and with care and concern. “
Describing the impact of the punishment, she said: “It will shake the foundations of the man and what he has accomplished and what he failed in two things that were most important to him as his career is about to end. ends ignominiously and his family life has been shattered as his children are distraught and his wife has a brave face.
She added that Welch was remorseful and admitted “he hadn’t been careful enough.”
But prosecutor Sarah Clarke QC accused Welch of lying and “trying to manipulate” the numbers about her family’s location in order to cover up her dishonesty.
She said the fraud was an “abuse of position, trust and responsibility” but said the accused had “no previous convictions of any kind”.