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Retired Army Major guilty of dishonestly acquiring historic military vehicles from foreign governments

|News, Fraud and economic crime

A retired Major in the British Army has been sentenced today (13 August 2021) for acquiring tanks and other military vehicles of historic value from foreign governments and museums in an audacious deception.

Major Michael Whatley (Rtd), aged 65 and from Berkshire, pleaded guilty to three counts of misconduct in a public office at Salisbury Crown Court on 9 July 2021. He has now been sentenced to a two year suspended sentence.

Over a period of many years, dating back to 2001, Whatley falsely claimed that he was acting on behalf of the Household Cavalry Regiment and managed to obtain more than 20 historic military vehicles from Belgium, Germany and Sweden, some of which he kept in storage facilities at Ludgershall.

Whatley brokered the sale of a Cromwell Tank for £65,000, a Sherman Firefly for £105,000 and an M41 Walker Bulldog, worth an estimated £100,000.

He made some deals on the basis of an exchange agreement, where he promised to provide items in exchange for military vehicles instead of monetary payment. However, the promised items often would never arrive, meaning that the agreements made by Whatley were fictitious.

He acted entirely dishonestly when he represented to museums and foreign governments that the vehicles would be stored and owned by the Household Cavalry Museum, which in reality had no knowledge of these transactions or indeed any desire to obtain such vehicles for their collection.

Whatley demonstrated flagrant disregard for his trusted position in the military when he used official headed notepaper to correspond with interested parties so that it would seem like he was acting in an official capacity, when actually it was purely for his own benefit as a private hobbyist.

Not only did Whatley act dishonestly in order to obtain tanks and military vehicles (some with “live” armaments), but he also went on to sell some of these historic vehicles to other private collectors which was completely contrary to agreements in place to protect museum exhibits from being sold without the donor’s consent.

Ian Harris, CPS Wessex Senior Crown Prosecutor, said: “This was an incredibly complex prosecution which required detailed examination of evidence gathered through collaboration with the Ministry of Defence Police and a number of authorities in European Countries.

“Major Whatley (Rtd) wholly abused his rank and status within the British Army in order to satisfy his own interest as a collector of military vehicles.

“As a result of Major Whatley’s dishonesty, the mutual trust that previously existed within the museum community, not only in the UK but across Europe, has been damaged by his behaviour and museums have changed their donation policies as a direct result.”

Notes to editors

  • Whatley was sentenced to two years imprisonment, suspended for two years. He must also complete 150 hours unpaid work and pay £1500 in costs.
  • The investigation began when UK Border Agency Officers were alerted to the importation of a Leopard Bergepanzer Tank and a Saladin Armoured Vehicle at Marchwood Port, Southampton.
  • This led to the execution of search warrants at barracks at Ludgershall, and at the defendant's home address, where other tanks and military vehicles were located.
  • Ian Harris is a Senior Crown Prosecutor who works in the CPS Wessex Complex Casework Unit

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