A senior Army officer who claimed £50,000 in private school fees ‘deliberately manipulated the numbers’ about how much time his wife spent at their home, a court martial heard today.
Maj Gen Nick Welch, 57, is accused of abusing Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA) to send two of his children to the £37,000-a-year Clayesmore School and £22,500-a-year Hanford School, both in Dorset.
Prosecutors claim he lied to the Army that 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.
A court heard today that the father of three ‘deliberately manipulated the numbers’ to mislead military police about how much time wife Charlotte Welch had spent in London from December 2015 to February 2017.
To conform to the allowance rules, freelance consultant Mrs Welch, 54, could only spend 90 days away from the London address in a year.
Maj Gen Nick Welch, 57, allegedly abused Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA) to send two of his children to the £37,000-a-year Clayesmore School and £22,500-a-year Hanford School, both in Dorset
The hearing was told Maj Gen Welch provided ‘significantly lower’ calculations to the police so it seemed his wife was abiding by the 90 day rule, adding that he was ‘trying to do all [he] could to knock these numbers down’.
Bulford Military Court, Wiltshire, heard that, on February 20 2017, Maj Gen Welch was made aware of an anonymous complaint about how much time his wife had been spending at the London address.
Prosecutor Sarah Clarke QC explained that the following morning, Maj Gen Welch and his wife spoke several times on the phone.
He admitted to the court that at this point he asked her to change her plans from staying in Blandford that weekend and instead drive to London.
She messaged her husband later that day, stating she had arrived at their London address and joked that she had ‘beeped her horn very loudly all the way in’.
She added that she would be ‘out and about and very sociable all week’.
During cross examination today, Maj Gen Welch accepted he must have told his wife about the complaint and added: ‘I suspect I had told her to go to London. At that stage I still thought we were inside the rules.
‘There was an accusation made against me but we wanted to make sure we were entirely inside the regulations.
‘I wanted to make sure we were inside the rules. I didn’t panic, nor did I ask her to make an impression on the neighbours.’
The 57-year-old, pictured in Afghanistan with then-Prime Minister David Cameron, denies fraud
The trial heard that his wife had texted a friend afterwards saying she had only just learned of the ‘small print’ in the regulations stating she could only spend 90 days away from the London address, so had to ‘dash back up here to keep in line’.
Maj Gen Welch added: ‘I thought she was aware; she tells me she wasn’t aware.’
Maj Gen Welch told the court he and his wife spent that weekend going through calendars and diaries to plot their movements.
He then handed an envelope containing these calculations, along with the documents he had been working from, to military police who were investigating him.
His calculations of how many days his wife had spent away from London were shown to the court, but Ms Clarke said they were ‘significantly lower’ than the true number, which would have been clear from the various calendars and diaries also given to the police.
His calculations showed his wife was absent from London for 65 days between June 2016 and February 2017, and 79 days between May 2016 and March 2017.
But Ms Clarke pointed out that he had decided to omit January-April in both of these calculations, which would have added at least another 45 days in which Mrs Welch was absent from London.
When analysing month by month, Ms Clarke also found several discrepancies in his calculations ‘which would have been obvious’.
She told Maj Gen Welch: ‘This envelope that you handed to the military police to exonerate you actually did the opposite.
‘Over the course of that weekend 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 claimed these were ‘incomplete calculations’, adding: ‘What I had that weekend was insufficient to work out in detail where we had been.
‘It took us an awful long time to decipher her diaries and plot her movements.’
The court heard that he told the investigation he believed he had complied with ‘the spirit of the regulations’.
Maj Gen Welch had previously claimed he thought he satisfied the ‘underlying principles’ of the allowance rules as long as he and his wife ‘endeavoured to be together’.
Maj Gen Welch, who has a glittering career and an OBE, is the most senior officer to face a court martial since 1815, when a Lieutenant General was convicted during the Napoleonic wars.
He denies fraud. The trial continues.