THE commanding officer of a lieutenant colonel accused of fraudulently claiming nearly £220,000 to send his children to a top public school told a court today of his surprise at discovering he had split from his wife.

Colonel Peter Russell said he never suspected that Lt Col Robert Henry Jolleys was separated and only discovered the truth when Judith Jolleys rang him out of the blue.

Jolleys, 52, is accused of claiming the school fees from the Army so he could send his three sons to an exclusive school.

As he was separated from his wife it was likely he would have lost the taxpayer-funded allowance, so it is alleged he continued to maintain he was living with Mrs Jolleys in married quarters provided by the Army.

Jolleys, of Woodlands Park in Whalley, Clitheroe, Lancashire, is on trial at Swindon Crown Court accused of five charges of obtaining a money transfer by deception, three charges of fraud and three charges of forgery.

It is alleged that the father-of-three, who has since left the Army, claimed £218,094.11 in continuing education allowance between January
2002 and December 2009 to send his sons to public school.

The allowance allows service personnel to send their children to boarding school and prevents any disruption to their schooling.

The court has heard that Jolleys, who is known as Henry, was legitimately claiming the allowance until 2002 when he separated from his wife.

He is accused of not informing his superiors of the split - therefore creating a change in his circumstances - meaning he may have no longer received the allowance.

Yesterday, jurors heard Mrs Jolleys explain that she rang Col Russell in the summer of 2009 because her estranged husband would not tell her where his next posting was.

Col Russell said today the telephone call came out of the blue and it was during that conversation he learned of the separation.

"I was surprised to hear Mrs Jolleys on the phone," he told the court.

"I cannot remember the exact words but it was something like 'Hello Peter, I'm ringing you because I am unsure to where Henry is posted'.

"I said 'This is very surprising Mrs Jolleys, are you not married to him?' and I said he was being posted to Shrivenham."

Col Russell explained that Mrs Jolleys then confirmed she had split from her husband.

"She said 'No, I have been separated from Henry for four years and I live in London'," he told the court.

"I said to Mrs Jolleys that I was assuming she was married because Lt Col Jolleys had married quarters at Upavon and to be eligible to a married quarter you have to satisfy a number of rules."

Col Russell told the jury of six men and six women that following Mrs Jolleys' admission he informed his own commanding officer and the Royal Military Police because he was concerned there might have been a breach of regulations.

"I reported the matter to my director and I informed him I was going to take the matter to the Special Investigation Branch," he told the court.

Yesterday, Mrs Jolleys told the court that she and her husband had effectively separated in 2002 when she remained in London following his posting to North Yorkshire and she asked him for a divorce the following year.

In 2007, Mrs Jolleys saw another solicitor about a divorce, which was finally agreed in 2010.

After the Army investigation began, Jolleys applied for retrospective re-classification of his status to that of "primary carer" - meaning he had parental responsibility for his children and not his wife - and he could continue claiming the school allowance.

Jolleys is accused of bullying his wife into agreeing that he was the primary carer and to support his claims, it is alleged he forged his wife's signature on official documents to their bank and Stonyhurst College.

He denies all the charges.