Emile Cillers

Army Sergeant Attempted Murder Trial Hears From Parachute Club Boss

Emile Cillers

The person in charge of the parachute club where an Army sergeant allegedly tampered with his wife’s chute has told a court that the knots in her lines were likely caused by missing parts.

Emile Cilliers, of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, is on trial at Winchester Crown Court for two charges of attempting to murder wife Victoria Cilliers, A former army officer back in 2015.

The 37-year-old is also accused of a third charge of damaging a gas valve at their home a few days earlier, in the second allegation that he attempted to kill his 40-year-old wife.

He denies all three charges.

Mark Bayada, the Army Parachute Association's (APA) chief instructor at Netheravon airfield, said that the knots in Mrs Cilliers parachute lines could have happened as a result of the slinks being removed.

The prosecution alleges that the defendant tampered with his wife's reserve by removing the slinks, which are a soft link to connect the lines with the harness.

When asked about how the knots, found high up the lines closer to the canopy, might have occurred, Mr Bayada said:

"I absolutely do not know and it's the first thing I found to be very unusual about the whole thing.

"To have the knots created deliberately above the sliders when the parachute is packed, that would need you to open the reserve container, undo the lines, pull them through the slider and restart it.

"You wouldn't need to unfold the material but you would need to deploy all the lines; quite a lengthy process."

Emile Cilliers

The court has heard that Cilliers is accused of taking his wife's packed parachute into the hangar's toilets where he is alleged to have tampered with it.

When asked if he felt the sabotage could have taken place within a toilet cubicle with the parachute hung on the coat hook on the rear of the door, Mr Bayada replied: "I do not think so."

He added:

 "One, the hook is very weak, it's a soft metal hook, I'm not sure if it would take the weight of the equipment, the other one is the weight of the kit itself, it's very difficult to work on a set of kit."

Mr Bayada said that the kit store at Netheravon, where the parachute that Mrs Cillers' hired for her jump was kept, was never left "unlocked and unmanned".

Alan Westley, who has been the chief rigger for the APA since September 2013, told the court that reserve parachutes are required to be checked and re-packed every six months and he kept a spreadsheet to organise when each parachute was due to be checked.

Describing the process, he said:

"I take it up to my rigging room, which is a sterile environment, and then I go through a complete check of the whole equipment, every single component gets checked prior to the reserve being repacked."

The jury was shown a video of Mr Westley checking and repacking a reserve parachute.

A jury has been told that Emile Cilliers, an Army sergeant who attempted to murder his wife, did so by removing vital parts of her parachute.

Mr Bowes said that, on the night of the gas leak, March 29 2015, Cilliers had left his wife at their home in Amesbury, Wiltshire, to stay at his Army barracks to avoid the Monday morning traffic.

He said the following morning Mrs Cilliers contacted him saying she could smell gas and had found it was coming from a gas valve in a kitchen cupboard next to the oven.

Mr Bowes said that forensic examination of the fitting showed force had been used to loosen it but not to tighten it.

Mr Bowes said Mrs Cilliers sent her husband a WhatsApp message saying jokingly "Are you trying to kill me?", to which he replied "Seriously, why are you saying that?"

He said she had got the idea from a "True Life" magazine readers' story entitled "My husband tried to kill me".

Mr Bowes said:

 "That prescient WhatsApp message turned out to be true."

He said the defendant sent his lover, Stefanie Goller, several messages saying that he was leaving his wife, one of which read:

"I will sacrifice and give up so much for you."

Mr Bowes said: "What he is showing towards Victoria and Stefanie Goller is utter callousness and extreme contempt."

He added:

"He couldn't care less, he wanted to be with Stefanie, he wanted a new life and treated Victoria with contempt, he had no interest in spending time with her, he wanted to be out and away from her.

"With his absolute disinterest in her, how likely is it that he would suddenly think, after all this, that 'I must give Victoria a treat and give her something she really wants to do like parachuting'?"

He explained that Mrs Cilliers needed to use hire equipment because her own parachute was away to be inspected.

He said the defendant collected a parachute for his wife and during the afternoon took it into the men's toilets at the base, which is when the prosecution claim he tampered with it.

Mr Bowes said:

"It's heavy, it's bulky, there is absolutely no reason to take it in there at all."

"The weather was so poor that afternoon that Victoria couldn't jump, the cloud base was too low.

Mr Bowes said Cilliers then arranged to keep it overnight in his wife's locker against normal procedures at the base where its parachutes were always returned to the kit room overnight.

Emile Cillers

When the weather cleared in the afternoon, she was able to do a "hop and pop" jump from the low altitude of 4,000ft, Mr Bowes told the court. 

Mr Bowes said that, out of character, Cilliers kept a track on the weather forecast for his wife's jump that afternoon.

He said:

"He is really, really, keen that she jumps that afternoon, a woman who by now he couldn't care less for any more, the woman he wanted to abandon.

“Suddenly he is so concerned she has a good time parachuting that afternoon."

He said witnesses of Mrs Cilliers jump saw the "mess of the main parachute" as it collapsed in on itself and then saw Mrs Cilliers spiral and lose altitude quickly.

He said those on the ground rushed to where she landed, thinking that she would have died, but instead found her alive, drifting in and out of consciousness.

Mr Bowes said she was thought to have survived because of her small size and because she "landed in a ploughed field and was very small and very light".

Experts at the airfield had never seen such an entangled parachute and believed it could only be in that state if it had been tampered with.

Mr Bowes said the British Parachute Association said there had never been an accident caused by slinks breaking and added:

"To the board's knowledge there has never been an incident of main and reserve parachutes failing to operate in many millions of jumps."

He added:

"Emile Cilliers had the opportunity to tamper with the parachute and he had the expertise to do so having trained as a packer and having undergone training on the checking of parachute reserve equipment.

"There is no evidence that anyone at Netheravon or anywhere else wished her any harm with the exception of Emile Cilliers and he had already tried to kill her a few days before with the deliberate gas leak."

Emile Cilliers, of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, is on trial at Winchester Crown Court accused of two charges of attempting to murder his former wife.

The prosecution stated that the defendant was having a sexual relationship with his previous wife, Carly Cilliers, and that he had debts of £22,000 which he hoped to pay off with the £120,000 insurance pay out he would receive on his wife’s death.

Mr Bowes said:

"Victoria, known as Vicky, Cilliers, a highly-experienced parachutist and parachute instructor, was involved in a near-fatal parachute fall at the Army Parachute Association Camp at Netheravon, Wiltshire.

"When she jumped out of the plane at 4,000ft (1,200m), both her main parachute and her reserve parachute failed, causing her to spiral to the ground.

"Those attending at the scene expected to find her dead, although she was badly injured, almost miraculously she survived the fall.

"Those at the scene immediately realised that something was seriously wrong with her reserve parachute, two vital pieces of equipment which fasten the parachute harness were missing.

"Their absence inevitably meant the reserve parachute would fail and would send her spinning to the ground."

He continued:

"The police investigation was widened to include the circumstances of a gas leak at Emile Cilliers' and Victoria Cilliers' home a few days before, and it was discovered that Emile Cilliers had deliberately caused a gas leak at the house just before he left the house to stay elsewhere."

Cilliers, of Aldershot, Hampshire, denies the two charges of attempted murder and one of damaging a gas fitting belonging to his wife, reckless to endangerment of life.

The trial continues.

Emile Cilliers

The wife of an Army sergeant who survived after her husband allegedly tampered with her parachute in a bid to kill her is one of the top parachutists in the country, a court has heard.

 Mark Bayada, who has been chief instructor of the Army Parachute Association at Netheravon since 2013, told the court that Mrs Cilliers, who has completed more than 2,600 jumps, was a qualified instructor.

He said:

 "By the pure fact that she is an accelerated free fall instructor puts her in the top per cent of competency in the country."

Describing her teaching ability, he continued:

"Absolutely brilliant, never had any issues at all with what she taught, top notch, no negatives about her teaching."

He added that Mrs Cilliers is "quiet, unassuming, just got on with it, intelligent, a trained physiotherapist, just got on with the job."

Mr Bayada, who joined the Parachute Regiment in 1987 and went on join the Red Devils and who has completed more than 5,000 jumps, explained to the jury the procedures required for preparing the kit for jumps.

Mr Bayada said that the slinks, two of which were found to be missing from Mrs Cilliers' reserve parachute were "vital".

The court has heard that slinks, which join the harness and the rigging lines, are "extremely strong" and under tests did not fail until subjected to a load of 884kg (1,948lb).

He said:

 "A method of attaching lines to the riser is absolutely vital, if it's not connected to the kit, it's not going to work."

The jury was shown a video of Mr Bayada explaining different types of parachute malfunctions and demonstrating how a parachute is packed and worn.

On the video, he shows how the slinks are attached and said: "The more it pulls, the more it tightens itself making it almost impossible for it to come off by mistake."

Describing the malfunction of Mrs Cilliers' main parachute, he said:

 "We are looking at a distorted canopy where lines had crossed, it was distorted, rotated and bunched up."