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Army major general 'couldn't afford school fees on "lofty" salary'

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 03/03/2021 Emer Scully For Mailonline
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The most senior Army officer to face a court martial in more than 200 years moaned he couldn't afford his children's school fees even on his 'lofty salary', a court martial heard today.

Major General Nick Welch, 57, expressed his concern over losing a taxpayer-funded education allowance when he took on the top job at Ministry of Defence headquarters in Whitehall, central London.

The two-star general, while seeking advice from a colleague, said: 'I can't afford private school fees.'

A military court has heard Maj Gen Welch 'dishonestly' told the Army his wife Charlotte would be living with him at his new London residence, which meant he could claim taxpayers' money for two of his children to board in Dorset.

In fact, 54-year-old Mrs Welch spent most of her time at their £800,000 country home in Blandford Forum near the schools, prosecutors say.

a man standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera: Major General Nick Welch (pictured) expressed his concern over losing the taxpayer-funded education allowance when he took on the top job at MoD headquarters © Provided by Daily Mail Major General Nick Welch (pictured) expressed his concern over losing the taxpayer-funded education allowance when he took on the top job at MoD headquarters

Maj Gen Welch, who has an OBE, allegedly swindled £48,388 from taxpayers by illegally claiming Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA) for 15 months. He denies one count of fraud.

Now, Bulford Military Court, Wilts, has heard Mrs Welch only spent around one in three days at the new residence in Putney, London.

Prosecutor Sarah Clarke QC said that of the 15-month period in which Maj Gen Welch claimed his wife was living in Putney, she spent 355 days absent from the home, 278 days including her husband's leave.

Before Maj Gen Welch was appointed Assistant Chief of the General Staff of the MoD in London, a role in which he became the highest ranking officer at the HQ, his family were living in Gloucestershire, claiming CEA.

But, when he got the 'very good job' which is thought to come with a £120,000 salary, Maj Gen Welch sought CEA advice from a fellow Army officer, admitting he was at a 'sort of cross roads'.

In an email, he said: 'It throws my domestic arrangements into disarray. If I'm to retain CEA Charlotte would have to come with me to London... If Charlotte moves to Dorset then we lose CEA.

'Even with a lofty Major General salary I can't afford private school fees for [one of his children] so would need a reduction in that.'

Maj Gen Welch was also concerned over relocating his youngest child to London as it would have been their fifth school in 14 months.

Maj Gen Welch and his wife ended up sending the child to the £22,500 a year Hanford School in Dorset to give them an opportunity to settle. Their other child went to the £37,000-a-year Clayesmore School in Iwerne Minster, Dorset.

It was also heard when Maj Gen Welch first bought the Putney property, his wife said in a message to a friend: 'I'm trying to be brave about moving but not doing brilliantly... You are an angel, I miss you lots.'

Ms Clarke QC said investigation into Mrs Welch's whereabouts show her phone records, credit card purchases and Amazon deliveries put her as being at their Blandford home most of the time.

The prosecutor also read to the panel a catalogue of messages, texts, emails and diary appointments throughout the 15-month period which she said proves the family home was not Putney.

In one message to a potential cleaner for their Dorset home, Mrs Welch said: 'We live in [the Blandford home]. We are not in the house all the time because my husband's in the Army and we have an Army house where he works.'

A number of exchanges between Maj Gen Welch and his wife were also read out, with Ms Clarke QC pointing out that he was in London while Mrs Welch was in Dorset.

In one message, he said he is sat in a pub 'just wishing I had you opposite me to ogle at'.

Another read: 'Morning gorgeous. I guess you are sat up waiting for the workmen, I'm sat at Clapham Junction waiting for a train to Andover. Oh, the high life. Missing you.'

Ms Clarke QC said: 'This couple did seem close and fond of each-other. He is clearly in London working for the family and she is in Dorset.

'This was not a couple who prefer it that way. Could it really be that she was somewhere he didn't know? No, it could not be that way.'

Ms Clarke QC read to the court details from Mrs Welch's diary which described her attending appointments in London such as trips to watch rugby at Twickenham, physio appointments, business meetings and to attend an event involving defence minister Jonny Mercer at the RAF Club in Mayfair.

Ms Clarke said: 'While living in a house in Dorset is a very nice thing to be doing, the house they were meant to be living in was London, but that is demonstrably not the case.'

The prosecutor said Mrs Welch wrote reminders in her diary to bring items of clothing with her when visiting London.

She said: 'She has to specifically remind herself to pack stuff for London. If she was living in London she would have these items there.'

a person is walking down the street: Prosecutor Sarah Clarke QC (pictured) said that of the 15-month period in which Maj Gen Welch claimed his wife was living in Putney, she spent 355 days absent from the home, 278 days including her husband's leave © Provided by Daily Mail Prosecutor Sarah Clarke QC (pictured) said that of the 15-month period in which Maj Gen Welch claimed his wife was living in Putney, she spent 355 days absent from the home, 278 days including her husband's leave

Ms Clarke said Mrs Welch wrote a note in September 2016 saying she had not been at the London house 'for more than a month' and described a 'Goldilocks moment' when she returned to the property.

Continuity of Education Allowance is offered to soldiers to help fund 90 per cent of their child's education when they relocate on assignment, as long as their spouses live with them, a practice known as 'serving accompanied'.

Ms Clarke QC previously said: 'The whereabouts of Welch's wife are the most important piece of evidence.

'If she is supposed to be living with him in London but spending more time elsewhere than that, the prosecution submits, that means Welch was not serving accompanied.

'Very rarely were they in London, it was not being used as the family home.

'It was in fact a convenient second property - and that's very nice, but that's not what CEA is about and if that was the case then Welch was not entitled to CEA.

'He had a duty to inform of any risk that his family was failing to satisfy the CEA rules.

'The reason it never happened is because he dishonestly wanted to continue to keep the privilege of having his two children in private education but did not want his family to live in the home at London but instead the family home in Blandford, which is clearly where they wanted to be.'

Maj Gen Welch, whose move to Putney was his '20th Army move', retired from the military in 2019 and became Chief Operating Officer of Bournemouth Arts University, Dorset.

He is the the highest ranking officer to face court martial since Lieutenant General Sir John Murray was convicted of abandoning his siege guns without due cause in the Napoleonic wars in 1815.

The trial continues. 

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