An Army sergeant accused of tampering with his wife’s parachute in a botched plot to kill her has told a court he was in a dire financial situation throughout their relationship.

Emile Cilliers, of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, said he owed wife Victoria several thousand pounds during their courtship, and repeatedly borrowed cash from various sources to pay off existing loans.

The 37-year-old defendant is charged with attempted murder after his wife’s main parachute failed to open correctly in a 4,000ft jump at Netheravon Airfield on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, on April 5 2015.

Loading article content

Victoria CilliersVictoria Cilliers (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Mrs Cilliers, 42, described as an accomplished skydiver with around 2,600 jumps to her name, plummeted to the ground at high speed when her main chute malfunctioned and the reserve failed.

Jurors at Winchester Crown Court were told her survival, albeit with serious injuries, was a “near miracle”, and was largely attributed to the soft soil in the ploughed field where she landed.

Entering the witness box for the first time since the trial opened four weeks ago, Cilliers told the nine women and three men on the jury how he had kept the extent of his poor financial health from his wife due to concerns she would leave him.

Asked to explain his monetary woes during their marriage, he told the court: “I was hiding from Victoria the financial situation I was in.

“I was living above my means, taking out loans to cover other loans – all my money would go on repaying loans and I would get another loan to try and hide it.

“I would be embarrassed (if Victoria found out). I was afraid she would be disappointed in me, I was just scared.”

An aeroplane similar to the one used by Victoria Cilliers used for skydiving at Netheravon Airfield in WiltshireAn aeroplane similar to the one used by Victoria Cilliers used for skydiving at Netheravon Airfield in Wiltshire (Steve Parsons/PA)

Asked by defence counsel Elizabeth Marsh QC what he thought would happen when his wife did find out, Cilliers replied: “Leave me.”

The court heard Mrs Cilliers later discovered her husband was in difficulty, agreeing to bail him out.

He added: “I kept on blaming various things for money being missing or not appearing.

“I never told her the truth about the debt I was in or who I owed the money to and I think it came to the point where she had enough.”

The defendant denies attempting to murder his former Army officer wife by tampering with her hire kit in a toilet cubicle, allegedly twisting the lines of the main parachute and removing some slinks – nylon strips which fasten the parachute to the harness – from the reserve, meaning Mrs Cilliers was sent spinning to the ground.

The South African, who is father to six children from various relationships, also denies a second attempted murder charge relating to a gas leak at their family home in Amesbury, Wiltshire, a few days earlier, as well as a third charge of damaging a gas valve, recklessly endangering life.

The trial continues, and Cilliers is due to continue giving evidence on Monday.