Major General convicted at court martial for £50,000 school fees fraud

A Major General has became the highest ranking Army officer to be convicted at a court martial for more than 200 years after conning the army out of £50,000 in private school fees.

Maj Gen Nick Welch, OBE, is the most senior officer to be court martialled since 1815, when a Lieutenant General was convicted during the Napoleonic wars.

Father-of-three Welch abused Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA) to send two of his children to private schools in Dorset.

Under CEA rules the couple had to live mostly at their MoD home in London in order to be able to claim the money.

Maj Gen Welch, who was Assistant Chief of the General Staff based at the Ministry of Defence’s headquarters in London had claimed he couldn’t afford the school fees, even on £120,000 a year.

Meanwhile his wife claimed the neighbour who reported them must have done so as he was “daunted” by her husband’s rank.

Yesterday at Bulford Military Court, Wilts, following five hours of deliberations, Maj Gen Welch gave no reaction and stood stony faced as a panel found him guilty of fraud.

The four week trial found he lied, claiming they were living in military quarters in London when they in fact spent most of their time at their £800,000 Dorset home, breaching allowance rules.

His trial heard the 57 year old “deliberately manipulated the numbers” to mislead military police about how much time wife Charlotte Welch spent in London.

Allowance rules meant Mrs Welch, 54, could only spend 90 days away from the London address in a year.

They used the money to send their children to the £37,000-a-year Clayesmore School and £22,500-a-year Hanford School, both in Dorset.

The court heard that Maj Gen Welch was reported by Colonel Jeremy Lamb because he and other ‘irate’ neighbours never saw him at their London home.

‘Frustrated’ Col Lamb said he never saw the senior officer or his wife at the London property in the 15 month period they were supposed to be living there.

The court heard that, after the complaint, Mrs Welch rushed to London.

She told her husband she would be “out and about and very sociable all week.”

Mrs Welch blamed the spouse of a lower ranked officer for blowing the whistle, messaging a friend saying: “Perhaps they are daunted by Nick’s rank, all of their husbands are two or three ranks below.”

During the trial, Maj Gen Welch denied he had asked his wife to “make an impression” on neighbours, claiming they believed they were within the 90 day rule.

He told the court : “We didn’t believe that we were outside the [allowance] rules.

“At the time we didn’t know that spending more time away from the [London home] put us outside the rules, that was our genuine belief.”

Prosecutor Sarah Clarke QC said Welch’s figures for how much time they spent in London were ‘significantly lower’ than the true number.

She told Maj Gen Welch: “You deliberately manipulated the numbers to reduce them as much as you thought you could get away with.

“You and your wife were trying to do all you could to knock these numbers down.”

Maj Gen Welch had denied one count of fraud. He will be sentenced at a later date.