By Caroline Thain and Sarah Bull

Footballers' Wives and The Bill actor Ben Richards has split from his wife Helen after a 15-year long relationship, it has been revealed.

The news it the latest in a string of devastating developments for the 40-year-old actor, who is also battling bowel cancer.

Ben's estranged wife Helen announced the split on her Twitter page, describing it as '15 years down the drain'.

Split: Footballers' Wives star Ben Richards has split from wife Helen after 15 years of marriage, it has been revealed

Made famous by his TV roles in Footballers’ Wives and The Bill, Ben has spent this year undergoing gruelling chemotherapy, radiotherapy and at least two operations to try to blitz a 6cm tumour.

When he first received the diagnosis, he described Helen, 38, as 'my rock by my side'.

The couple lived together in St Albans, Hertfordshire, with their two dogs, and were actively trying to start a family.

'Sad times': Helen then said she would always remember 2012 as 'the year my marriage broke down'

The day Ben was told the devastating news about his illness in January, Helen was elsewhere having preparatory fertility injections, ahead of planned artificial insemination in Spain.

Since their wedding in 2003, Helen had fallen pregnant five times, including twice with twins, but all of the babies died before they were born, suffering from a rare bone and cartilage disorder.

Ben told Hello! magazine in March: 'We could both have children without any problem, but together it’s nigh on impossible to have them.'

Posed photographs of them kissing and cuddling appeared in the glossy magazine, and though they hinted at some marital tension, they described pride that their shared grief had not torn them apart, with Ben adding: 'It could have done.'

Helen ran the Race For Life to raise money for charity in Ben's honour last month, sharing a picture of the special day on her Twitter page.

They celebrated him turning 40 in Mexico with cocktails, and she ran the Race For Life to raise money for charity in his honour, on her birthday, last month.

But in recent weeks, Ben has been returning to his hometown of Bognor Regis to be with his mum after chemotherapy sessions. Helen took to Twitter to tell of the strain in their relationship.

On 15th June, Helen wrote: 'All I want is to be watching the footie & everythings (sic) normal, wrapped in a blanket with my hubbie! #dreamer.'

Days later, she put: 'Football & beer on my lonesome! @benrichardsact recouping as always at his mums. Come on England!'

But two weeks on, Helen tweeted: 'Well that’s that then! Thank you! Only 15 years down the drain!'

And on the night of the London 2012 opening ceremony, she confided to followers: 'Wish I could remember 2012 as the year of the Olympics, instead of the year my marriage broke down! #sadtimes.'

Charity campaigner: Helen ran the Race For Life to raise money for charity for Ben last month

Ben has remained tight-lipped about the break-up, but arrived back from a getaway sunshine holiday in Spain on Saturday - and he has been visiting the gym in preparation for his next job.

Despite surgery complications following two bowel operations last month, Ben has since told fans via his website that he will embark on a seven-month national theatre tour, performing the lead role of Franklin in up to seven shows a week of Dolly Parton’s 9 To 5 musical.

Direct from Broadway, it is based on the 1980s film and is scheduled from October to May. Written by Patricia Resnick, it features Bonnie Langford, and producers hope to take it to the West End. His previous theatre credits include Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Grease.

Ben, who has publicly likened his cancer ordeal to a boxing fight, is expected to finish treatment for the disease by September.

Screen star: Ben as Bruno in Footballers' Wives with Helen Latham as Lucy and (right) in action as PC Nate Roberts in The Bill

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