An army sergeant has been found guilty of trying to murder his wife by tampering with her parachute before a skydive so that he could begin a life with a secret lover and use a life insurance payout to clear his debts.
Emile Cilliers arranged the jump as a treat for his wife, Victoria, soon after the birth of their second child but removed vital components from her parachute, causing her to fall 4,000ft (1,200m).
Victoria, a physiotherapist, “miraculously” survived after landing in a soft, ploughed field but was seriously injured.
A police investigation was launched after it was discovered that pieces of kit called “slinks”, which connect the canopy to the harness, had been removed from the parachute rig.
Detectives found that Cilliers, who has six children, was having affairs with two women and had discussed beginning a new life with one of them. He had also been in contact with sex workers, had heavy debts, was being chased by loan companies and upped his insurance policy so he would benefit if his wife died.
Police discovered that Cilliers had tampered with a gas fitting at the couple’s home in Amesbury, Wiltshire, a week before the parachute jump in an attempt to cause an explosion while he was at work.
Cilliers, 38, of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, told Winchester crown court that a “random killer” may have sabotaged his 42-year-old wife’s rig at the Army Parachute Association at Netheravon, Wiltshire, on 5 April 2015. He also suggested that the jury needed to consider whether she had tampered with her own parachute because she wanted to kill herself.
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.
Victoria Cilliers, an 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, 5 April 2015.
Mr Justice Sweeney thanked the jurors for fulfilling their duty “with distinction” and told them: “The burden now falls on me on what to do as far as this defendant is concerned; that too is a heavy burden.”
He continued: “It’s an important part of any sentencing exercise where there is a victim or intended victim, as there plainly is in this case, that the court gives the victim an opportunity to make a statement and despite all the ups and downs that is what I am going to afford Mrs Cilliers the opportunity if she wishes to take it.”
The judge added that he would have to consider the “dangerousness” of the defendant. “It may well be that I may need a report from an expert probation officer on this but, as the judge who has presided over this case twice, you may imagine I have my own views,” he said.
Outside court, DI Paul Franklin, who led the case, said: “Emile Cilliers has shown nothing but contempt for his wife. On two separate occasions he made serious attempts to murder Victoria. He has failed to accept any responsibility for his actions, which reinforces our view that he is a cold, calculating and callous man whose only duty of care is to himself.”
Angus Macpherson, the Wiltshire and Swindon police and crime commissioner, said: “Victims in a coercive relationships suffer greatly at the hands of offenders like Cilliers. Emotional and financial abuse is as deeply traumatising as those who suffer physical domestic violence and victims can suffer the after effects for many years afterwards. I hope this verdict will empower more victims to come forward.”
The judge will hear submissions on Thursday afternoon; the sentencing date has not yet been set.
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