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Army sergeant guilty of trying to murder his wife by tampering with her parachute

An army Sergeant has been found guilty of trying to murder his wife by tampering with her parachute and sabotaging a gas valve at their home. 

The jury convicted Emile Cilliers, 38, of two attempted murder charges and a third count of damaging the gas fitting following a retrial at Winchester Crown Court.

Victoria Cilliers, a highly-experienced parachuting instructor, suffered near-fatal injuries when both her main and reserve parachutes failed when she took part in a jump at the Army Parachute Association at Netheravon, Wiltshire, on Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015.

The defendant showed no emotion as he was convicted unanimously on the two counts of attempted murder and by a majority of 10 to two on the criminal damage charge.

The judge, Mr Justice Sweeney, thanked the jury of nine men and three women for carrying out their duty with “distinction”.

He said he would be seeking a report from the probation service to establish the “dangerousness” of the defendant and to seek a statement from Mrs Cilliers on the impact the offences had upon her before sentencing Cilliers on a date to be set.

Victoria Cilliers arrives at Winchester Crown Court on May 1

Credit:
Morten Watkins/Solent

The Army sergeant’s victim had a moment of foresight that he was plotting to murder her after finding his blood on a leaking gas valve at their home.

Victoria Cilliers sent her husband a WhatsApp message on March 30, 2015, saying she was “concerned re cause”, revealing that she was becoming suspicious.

Earlier that day, she had smelled gas coming from the kitchen of their home in Amesbury, Wiltshire, and found dried blood next to a leaking lever on the gas pipe feeding the oven.

Cilliers had made his excuses to be away from the home the previous night by saying he needed to be at his barracks to “avoid the Monday morning traffic”.

Mrs Cilliers wrote: “Just an article I read in a mag recently. Brought it to front of my mind.

“True life reader stories – ‘My husband tried to kill me’.”

Explaining her thoughts, Mrs Cilliers added: “Was only making a joke. It was the blood on the handle. Wasn’t being serious.”

Cilliers tried to laugh it off with a “Seriously?” but his plotting continued – just five days later he sabotaged her parachute in his second botched attempt to kill her.

The gas valve, circled, which Cilliers tampered with

As early as November 2013, Mrs Cilliers wrote to her husband saying that his failure to sort out his finances was putting “immense strain on our relationship”.

The prosecution claimed during the trial that Cilliers was deeply in debt and the motive for his actions was that he needed his wife’s life insurance money to pay off his bills and start a new life with his lover, Stefanie Goller.

Mrs Cilliers warned him that if he did not pay back money that he owed her, “I will have to consider my options”.

The extent of his money problems was also revealed in messages sent between the married couple in December 2014, as their relationship began to break down.

Mrs Cilliers wrote to him: “I just checked my bank and no money from you. Please look into this. I can’t keep financing everything with no input from you.”

And just a week before Christmas, she added: “You promised before we married not to use loan sharks and now I get a big guy turning up to door try to intimidate a pregnant woman with a visibly upset toddler. Both of us shaken.”

Emile Cilliers and his wife Victoria

The sense of Mrs Cilliers’ suspicion of her husband arose again in their WhatsApp exchanges that month when he told her: “Trust me you don’t”

She replies poignantly: “Why not? I entered into this marriage with my eyes open. I have loved you more each year.

“Feels like you keep trying to push me away until I jump ship. But I can’t. I love you too much. It feels just now that you would be happier without me.”

And in another prescient move that same month, Mrs Cilliers changed her will to stop her husband from being her beneficiary – a fact he only learned when police began their investigation.

How did Cilliers do it?

Army sergeant Emile Cilliers used his extensive knowledge of packing parachutes to sabotage his wife’s device.

The 38-year-old took up the sport after meeting his future wife, Victoria, who has been described as one of the best parachutists in the country.

He went on to become an experienced packer at Netheravon Airfield, where he would pack hundreds of main parachutes.

Wanting to expand his knowledge, he enrolled in an advanced course in packing reserve parachutes.

The trial jury learned that reserve parachutes, which are rarely deployed, are required to be checked and repacked every six months.

Cilliers attended a course at Netheravon in October 2012 run by chief rigger of the Army Parachute Association George Panagopoulos.

He described the defendant as a “very good, confident” packer who “became good and pretty quick and efficient”.

The trial was told that Cilliers had a short window of opportunity to tamper with his wife’s parachute in the hangar toilets at Netheravon.

A view of the gentlemen’s toilets at Netheravon Airfield in Wiltshire

Credit:
Steve Parsons/PA

Chief instructor Mark Bayada was tasked with replicating the actions that Cilliers was accused of within the confines of a toilet cubicle and he managed this in slightly over five minutes.

This involved taking out the main parachute container and turning it around in order to twist the lines so that it would malfunction on the jump.

He secondly removed vital parts from the reserve parachute – two slinks, a nylon link which connects the harness to the canopy.

The court was told that only two slinks had ever failed and these had been in badly maintained main parachutes but never in a reserve.

The court was told that a main and reserve parachute had not failed together worldwide.

The missing slinks from Mrs Cilliers’ parachute were never found and the prosecution case was that the defendant had taken them out and disposed of them.

Soft patch of ploughed field saved wife’s life

A soft patch of newly-ploughed field was the only thing that saved the life of Victoria Cilliers after her near-fatal fall.

On Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015, the highly-experienced parachutist made a routine recreational jump at Netheravon Airfield in Wiltshire.

As she jumped from the aircraft, first of all her main parachute malfunctioned.

A rare but not unheard of problem had occurred where her lines were twisted, and she followed her training and cut away the canopy of the main parachute.

Victoria Cilliers

But in an unprecedented incident, her reserve parachute then failed.

Two slinks were missing, meaning that the main lines on one side of the canopy were not connected to her harness, with a brake cable the only thing attached on that side.

This caused the reserve to not inflate properly and led to her spiralling out of control and at high speed to the ground.

Describing the final moments of her rapid descent, Mrs Cilliers, 42, said: “The last thing I remember is trying to get some kind of control over it, trying to open as many cells as I could – then everything went black. I do not know if it was the G force or the impact but everything cut out.”

Her survival has been described as a “near-miracle” and the only reason she did not suffer fatal injuries was the soft soil of the ploughed field where she landed.

Her light weight was also attributed as a factor in helping to minimise her injuries.

But her final piece of luck was that the spot where she landed was just 16ft (5m) from a small country lane, which would undoubtedly have caused fatal injuries.

Article Source : https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/05/24/army-sergeant-guilty-trying-murder-wife-tampering-parachute/

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