Wiltshire toilets where man ‘tampered with parachute’
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Emile Cilliers, 36, is accused of tampering with his wife Victoria’s parachute as part of a plot to murder her during a skydive
The jury in the trial of an Army sergeant accused of attempting to murder his wife by tampering with her parachute have visited the airfield where she survived her ‘near fatal’ fall.
The nine women and three men on the jury in the case of Emile Cilliers, 37, were taken by bus from Winchester Crown Court to Netheravon Airfield in Wiltshire.
The defendant is alleged to have sabotaged both the main and reserve parachutes of his wife, Victoria Cilliers, at the site on Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015.
The jury were first taken inside the hangar where the parachute kit used by Mrs Cilliers was hired on April 4 2015.
They were shown the kit store and mats where the parachutes are packed ready to be used during the jumps as well as a wall of photos depicting different types of parachute malfunctions.
The jurors were then taken to a set of toilets where the prosecution allege the defendant took the parachute to tamper with it before storing it in a locker overnight after poor weather prevented her jumping on the Saturday.
They were also shown a packed Safire 149 parachute, similar to that used by Mrs Cilliers and were given a chance to pick it up to feel its weight as well as take it into the toilets with them.
Detective Constable Maddie Hennah of Wiltshire Police, who was accompanying the jurors on the visit, told them: ‘You will have seen and heard me in the recordings at Netheravon with Mark Bayada, walking round the hangar and demonstrating the rig.
‘Today my role is to act as as guide, pointing out particular locations. I will read from an agreed script. We are at the Army Parachute Association centre at Netheravon in Wiltshire also known as Netheravon Parachute Centre.
‘We will only be viewing the locations thought to feature significantly in this investigation.
‘We will pause at each of 20 locations identified on your plan and maps, for you to take a few moments to familiarise yourself with the location; its appearance; its purpose and position relevant to other points.
Jurors were given a tour of the men’s toilets at Netheravon Airfield, Wiltshire, where the alleged tampering took place on Easter Sunday, 2015
Trial judge Mr Justice Sweeney, right, and prosecution barrister Michael Bowes, QC, left, are pictured inspecting a 149 reserve parachute similar to the one used by Mrs Cilliers
Jurors and defence barrister Elizabeth Marsh QC, left, also inspected a similar main parachute and Mrs Cilliers’ locker, where the parachutes were kept before the jump
Jurors were also allowed to pick up a parachute similar to the one used by Mrs Cilliers in the skydive at the airfield, pictured
A map of the route was also shown to jurors at the site showing a view of the drop zone, pictured
They were taken around a room at the airfield where parachutes are kept, pictured
‘Your attention will be drawn to anything thought important at the appropriate time.’
During the visit, the High Court judge, Mr Justice Sweeney, and the barristers, Michael Bowes QC, for the prosecution, and Elizabeth Marsh QC, accompanied the jury but did not wear their normal court wigs and gowns.
The jury has already been shown videos of the airbase during evidence given by the Army Parachute Association’s chief instructor at Netheravon Mark Bayada.
The locker kept by Mrs Cilliers and the defendant, which is decorated with stickers from various parachute groups, was also shown to the jury.
Stickers include one which says ‘Friends for life’, one for the Red Devils and another that says ‘Girls Kick Ass’.
The jurors were then shown a parachute canopy hanging in the hangar, the canteen and other offices within the building.
They were then taken to the runway where they were shown an aeroplane used to take parachutists up for their jumps.
Mr Justice Sweeney, centre, and the barristers, pictured, toured the site with the jurors
DC Maddie Hennah of Wiltshire Police, pictured, accompanied the jury on the trip around the airfield
They were also taken to see an aeroplane similar to the one used in the failed skydive
The trial previously heard Cilliers was ‘unemotional and bewildered’ when he visited the airfield, pictured, a day after the crash
The jurors were then taken to the hut used for packing and checking reserve parachutes where a similar one to that used by Mrs Cilliers was on show for them to inspect.
The final point in the visit was the site where Mrs Cilliers landed on her jump which left her with serious injuries.
The trial previously heard Cilliers was ‘unemotional and bewildered’ when he visited the airfield the following day.
The court was told that the day after the incident, Cilliers visited the airfield and met Mark Bayada, who has been chief instructor of the Army Parachute Association at Netheravon since 2013.
In his third day of giving evidence to the court, Mr Bayada said he had said in his police statement that Cilliers had appeared ‘unemotional’ and ‘bewildered’ during the visit.
The court has been shown the parachute Cilliers is alleged to have tampered with. Mrs Cilliers’s main (pictured) and reserve parachute failed, causing her to spin to the ground
She survived the fall but broke her pelvis, ribs and fractured her vertebra. Pictured, an inspection of the parachute lines after the incident
Cilliers is also accused of attempting to murder wife Victoria, 40, (pictured on their wedding day in South Africa in 2011) a few days earlier when he damaged a gas valve at their home
Mrs Cilliers, pictured on another skydive, suffered multiple serious injuries in the fall in 2015
He added that Cilliers had seemed ‘very quiet’ and ‘in shock’, but added that he did not know him very well personally.
He said that after further investigations by his staff, a decision was made later that afternoon to contact the police about the parachute malfunction.
The prosecution allege that the main parachute was tampered with and Cilliers removed two slinks from the reserve which are used to attach the harness to the rigging.
He said that the landing area had been searched for the missing parts, including 45 people searching a week after the incident.
Cilliers is said to have started an affair with Stefanie Goller (above) after meeting her on Tinder
The jury heard Cilliers was involved in a sexual relationship with ex-wife Carly Cilliers (above)
Pictured, an inspection of Victoria Cilliers’s parachute following the incident. The white material is the reserve parachute
The jury has been told Cilliers, who had around £22,000 of debts, believed he would receive £120,000 life insurance as a result of Mrs Cillier’s death
The court was told that witness James Lowrey saw Mrs Cilliers’ parachute ‘collapse in on itself’ and compared it to a ‘quilt with a weight attached’.
His statement, read to the jury, said: ‘From what I saw I would assume it was a line over (when a line is twisted around the parachute or the jumper) which I have experienced myself once before.’
The statement from Mr Lowrey added that in Mrs Cillier’s case, he had ‘never seen anything like this before.’
He also described how ‘it appeared to be wrapped around itself, the lines were clear to the jumper’.
Responding to the description, Mr Bayada said it appeared that Mrs Cilliers was not entangled in the main parachute and ‘was stable at the time of deployment’.
Two slinks, which attach the lines of the canopy to the rest of the rigging, were missing from one side of the parachute, the court heard, preventing it from working correctly. Pictured: Images show the use of slinks, also known as S-Links, on a chute
Parachute equipment is labelled above. Two vital pieces of equipment which fasten the parachute to the parachutist’s harness were missing, the court heard
Cilliers ‘deliberately removed vital pieces of equipment intending that she should be killed when the reserve parachute inevitably failed’, the court was told
The reserve parachute for Victoria was immediately found to be faulty, the court was told
Mr Bayada was asked by Elizabeth Marsh QC, representing Cilliers, if he felt there had been ‘no effort’ by Mrs Cilliers to ‘kick-out’ of the twists in the lines or use the brakes in the malfunctioning parachute.
He said: ‘In my mind, most likely, there was another problem, something stopping being able to release the brakes.
‘It might be a legal thing but to me no effort means not even bothering. To me it suggests for a reason, they didn’t take control, but not that it was no effort.’
Mr Bayada said that weight of a jumper would not affect the outcome of a malfunction.
The court has heard that Mrs Cilliers is of petite stature.
Evidence shown in court reveals the gas valve that is alleged to have been adjusted by Cilliers
The top arrow shows damage to a nut made by a pair of pliers found in a toolbox located in the utility room of Cilliers’s home
Prosecutors said that on forensic examination, the nut (left) revealed tool marks matching mole grips (right) seized from a toolbox locked in the utility room
The 37-year-old has served with the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers regiments since 2005
He said: ‘When it’s a malfunction, it’s a malfunction and even the lightest person is going to die if they do not do anything about it. When it’s not working, it’s not working and it’s irrelevant.’
Mr Bayada said that he and his colleagues had followed the procedures set out by the British Parachute Association following a parachute accident but said he had not taken photographs or video at the scene to protect Mrs Cilliers’ privacy.
He said: ‘Should someone still be living, I would take offence if people were taking photographs. If I had seen someone with a camera, I would have had a word with them.’
He said that as soon as it was clear that Mrs Cilliers was alive, the priority was to ‘get her medical help’.
Cilliers (pictured) allegedly 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
Cilliers has served with the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineer regiments
A photo issued by Wiltshire Police of the Netheravon Army Parachute Centre in the county
The incident took place at Netheravon airfield, on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire two years ago
‘Then it was to have an initial look at what happened because what happened to her was very unusual which I have never seen before in my whole time jumping, so when we were to start jumping again it would be safe for all the other club jumpers,’ he said.
Mr Bayada said he carried out a thorough search for the missing slinks and said: ‘I was still trying to find out in my mind a parachuting reason why this could happen.
‘I was looking for missing slinks, I was looking for missing slinks, I was looking for parachuting damage or what slinks weren’t there.’
He said that the Safire 149 parachute used by Mrs Cilliers was a ‘high performance’ parachute which was ‘more fun’ to handle and one which would not be issued to normal club jumpers, but added that she was experienced at using it.
Cilliers, of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, is on trial for two charges of attempting to murder his former Army officer wife.
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.
The trial continues.