'This is a story that has everything', says presenter of ITV's new No Strings Attached true crime podcast

Vicky and Emile Cilliers plus a screenshot from a police reconstruction of a skydive at Netheravon Airfield.
Vicky Cilliers jumped from a plane, similar to the one above, with a parachute sabotaged by her husband Emile. She survived the 4,000 feet fall. Credit: PA/ITV/Wiltshire Police reconstruction

A murderous army sergeant, a miracle survival from 4,000 feet, a secret life of call-girls and swingers clubs. Revelations which left experienced detectives stunned. A perilous trial after a fraught investigation.

When ITV News asked me to develop a true crime podcast from one of the inquiries I’d watched unfold, the Emile Cilliers parachute murder plot had everything.

And I could have produced ten episodes on the more tawdry side of Emile Cilliers’ double-life. But that would have been too easy and too unfair.

Because when I started digging into the inquiry for the podcast, I found the most compelling part of the story was not the obvious, tabloidy sensationalism.

What struck me most was two powerful forces fighting each other.

The compassion of a small team of detectives locked in combat with a controlling relationship which neither abuser nor victim seemed to want to end.

That’s at the heart of this true crime podcast.

Look at the facts.

Emile Cilliers cheated on Vicky more times than he can remember with more women than he can recall. He tried to murder her twice, once as their small children slept upstairs.

But even in court, three years on, his wife stood and gave evidence backing him above the detectives who were trying to bring him to justice.

Why? What was his control over her?

What is a controlling, coercive relationship? Why do highly intelligent women and men fall into partnerships which are bad – and sometimes even dangerous? Yet they fight to keep them going.

Robert Murphy reporting from Netheravon Airfield in 2015, when news first emerged of Vicky Cilliers' fall. Credit: ITV News West Country

It was heart-breaking hearing how Maddy Hennah, Mark Lewis and Paul Franklin of Wiltshire Police put their lives on hold, working late nights and weekends, working to obtain a justice Vicky didn’t seem to want.

And when one of the trio told me just how close the inquiry hit home, it was a moment I will never forget. Spinetingling. And deeply affecting.

This team of detectives may have felt over-looked by the powers that be at Wiltshire Police. The force had some big stuff going on elsewhere when this obscure, circumstantial-evidence-based inquiry was live.

But the affection the experts had for Maddy, Mark and Paul is clear. Perhaps in part because they realised how hard the team had worked, how profound their sacrifices.

The prosecutor, Michael Bowes QC describes the team as ‘brilliant.’ Mark Bayada, the Netheravon Chief Instructor, was happy to appear on tape for the first time.

And I spoke with Dr Adrian West, a National Crime Agency Clinical Psychologist who has worked on hundreds of high-profile murders across the UK over the years. He gave only his third-ever interview to me for the podcast.

In a quote which didn’t make the edit, he told me:

“I come from a background where we were fairly antagonistic to the police. I never expected to be working with the police. I can tell you I’ve seen more humility and compassion and understanding in the way I’ve seen police deal not only with victims but also the most dreadful of circumstances than in other settings.

“You see some absolutely outstanding work and personal sacrifice. The cost to their mental health, their physical health, their relationships. They give a hell of a lot.”

So, yes. There is drama in this podcast. Lots of it. There is police procedure, forensics, and moments of heart-stopping revelation. And loads of sex.

What Emile Cilliers got up to in his double-life is not what has stayed with me.

Instead, it’s about the detectives’ efforts in their professional lives and sacrifices in their personal lives which power the episodes along.Listen and subscribe to No Strings Attached on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and all major podcast providers. You can also listen using the player below: