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Army sergeant tried to murder wife by removing vital parachute parts, court told

Emile Cilliers is accused of the attempted murder of his wife. Credit: PA

An Army sergeant attempted to murder his wife by removing vital parts of her parachute, causing her to spin thousands of feet to the ground, because he wanted to leave her for his Tinder lover, a court has heard.

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 Army officer wife Victoria Cilliers who suffered multiple serious injuries at Netheravon Airfield, on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, on April 5 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.

Michael Bowes QC, prosecuting, said that the murder bids came as Cilliers told his lover, who he met through the Tinder dating app, that he was leaving his wife, a physiotherapist for the army.

He said that the defendant had created a lie for his lover that he was leaving his wife, because he was not the father of one of his children, because his wife had been having an affair.

He added that the defendant, who was also having a sexual relationship with his previous wife, Carly Cilliers, had debts of £22,000 and he believed he would be set to receive a £120,000 insurance payout on her 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 ArmyParachute 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.

Two pieces of equipment which fasten the parachute harness were missing. Credit: Wiltshire Police/PA

"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."

A kitchen cupboard in the home of Emile Cilliers, where he allegedly damaged a gas valve. Credit: Wiltshire Police/PA

Mr Bowes said that by the time of the two alleged murder attempts, Cilliers "cared little" for his wife and treated her with "callousness and contempt".

He said: "The prosecution case is Emile Cilliers attempted to kill her by means of a deliberate gas leak and within hours of that failed attempt, despite his complete disinterest by then to Victoria, he suggested that she might like to go parachuting the following weekend.

"The prosecution case is that he had by now decided to get rid of her permanently."

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

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.

Dried blood on the gas fitting was later found to be a full DNA match to the defendant, the court was told.

A damaged gas valve in the kitchen had dried blood on it. Credit: Wiltshire Police/PA

Mr Bowes added 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.

In one message he wrote: "I am massively in love with the most amazing woman in the world. My girlfriend is awesome."

In another he said: "I will sacrifice and give up so much for you."

The court heard that he told her "only three people" knew that he and his wife had split and also said he had taken a paternity test for his youngest child.

He told her a lie that the child was not his and sent her a message saying: "I was just so scared I would lose you if it was mine."

He then sent her another message saying: "My girlfriend is an amazing person, I feel so lucky to have her, sorry you are going to have a lot of things about my girlfriend from now on."

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'?"

Vital parts of Mrs Cilliers' parachute were missing. Credit: Wiltshire Police/PA

Mr Bowes said that Mrs Cilliers was a qualified free fall instructor and experienced parachutist who had completed 2,600 jumps without incident and previously had been an instructor at Netheravon.

He said that Cilliers and his wife went to Netheravon on Easter Saturday, April 4 2015, to renew their membership of the Army Parachute Association and to prepare for Mrs Cilliers's jump.

He explained that Mrs Cilliers needed to use hire equipment because her own parachutewas 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."

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

"Now, of course, there was a dilemma, what was he going to do with the rig because having tampered with it he had a problem, he couldn't put it back in the store."

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.

He said Mrs Cilliers returned alone the following day and when the weather cleared in the afternoon, she was able to do a "hop and pop" jump from the low altitude of 4,000ft where the parachute is deployed immediately on leaving the aircraft.

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."

Describing the "near-fatal" jump, Mr Bowes said: "She exited the plane without any difficulty and pulled the parachute straight away.

"It seems she realised something wasn't right in how the parachute was deployed so she cut away the main so to let the main canopy go.

"She then pulled the release mechanism to activate the reserve parachute, she knew something was wrong with the reserve because it went into a spin. Then everything went black."

He said witnesses 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".

He said the reserve parachute was immediately found to be faulty. He said that two slinks, which attach the lines of the canopy to the rest of the rigging, were missing from one side of the parachute.

He said that 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."

Mr Bowes said that in messages with Ms Goller, Cilliers suggests the chief rigger Alan Westley, who previously inspected the parachute, might be to blame for the faultyparachute.

He also discussed with Ms Goller a fake theory that Mrs Cilliers had an affair with Mr Westley and could have been the "real father" of his child.

Mr Bowes said: "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."

The trial was adjourned until Thursday.