An army sergeant who allegedly tried to murder his wife and pocket £120,000 life insurance so he could start a new life with his lover today told a court he has had ‘serious issues’ with money and debts which ‘spiral out of control’.
Sergeant Emile Cilliers, 37, gave evidence for the first time today in court, where he is accused of trying to kill Victoria Cilliers, 42, by sabotaging her parachute.
The South African, of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, admitted to jurors he ‘hid debts from his wife’ and ‘was afraid she’d leave him’ if he told her.
Sergeant Emile Cilliers, 37, pictured here arriving in court today gave evidence in his defence against charges that he attempted to murder his wife Victoria in April 2015
Victoria Cilliers, left, pictured with her husband Emile, plunged 4,000 feet after her parachute failed during a jump at Netheravon airfield in Wiltshire, landing in a freshly ploughed field
Mr Cilliers told the court he had no idea about the type of parachute equipment his wife used
He said he relied on his wife to ‘constantly bail him out’ and even created a fictitious ‘ombudsman’ he was ‘seeking financial advice from’.
But Cilliers, who allegedly tampered with Mrs Cilliers’ parachute before a 4,000ft skydive, told the court he would have had ‘no idea’ what type of kit was inside the chute’s container.
Father-of-six Cilliers, who moved to the UK in 2000, allegedly sabotaged the equipment by removing slinks before his wife’s jump on April 5, 2015, at Netheravon airfield, Wiltshire.
Mrs Cilliers, a seasoned skydiver, spun helplessly to the ground after her main and reserve parachute failed. She miraculously survived the fall thanks to her light weight and a freshly ploughed field but suffered severe injuries breaking her pelvis, ribs and fractured her vertebra.
Mrs Cilliers, pictured only survived because of her slight weight and landing in a soft field
The prosecution alleged Mr Cilliers, pictured arriving in court today, sabotaged his wife’s parachute equipment in an effort to cash in her £120,000 life insurance policy
The court heard Ms Cilliers was unaware of her husband’s debts of between £5,000 and £6,000 when he moved into her home in Bulford, Wiltshire
Elizabeth Marsh QC, defending, today asked Cilliers a series of questions in regard to whether he would have had knowledge about what type of kit was inside Mrs Cilliers’ hired parachute container.
She asked: ‘Would you have had any idea what kind of reserve chute was in that container? Would you know if it would accompany that main?
‘Would you have knowledge of the type of links between the line and risers used in that container? Did you know what kind of linkage was in there?’
Cilliers said ‘no’ to each question and added: ‘I would have had no idea what type of kit was inside.’
The court heard Cilliers, who has prevously been described as ‘financially incompetent’, was already in debt when he split with his previous wife Carly Cilliers.
He said: ‘I was in debt of around £5,000 to £6,000 when we split.
‘I tried to deal with it but it spiralled out of control a little bit. I was finding it hard to deal with it, I had serious issues as I was spending money on things I should not have spent it on.’
He added that Victoria Cilliers was unaware of his debts when he moved into her home at the time in Bulford, Wiltshire.
Cilliers said: ‘She was not happy about my debts, I didn’t tell her from the start but she said she would help me.
Cilliers said: ‘I was hiding from Victoria what financial strain I was in. I was living above my means and taking out loans to cover other loans.
‘All my money would go on loans and by the end of the month I would take out another one to try and hide it.
‘I was embarrassed, I was afraid Victoria would be ashamed of me. I wanted to tell her but was scared of the consequences, I was scared she might leave me.
‘At first she offered to help me out with debts from Carly but then I started spiralling out of control again and I was constantly bailed out by Victoria.’
Cilliers told the court when he was under pressure from his wife to repay her, he lied by telling her he was having difficulties and ‘getting advice from the Ombudsman’.
He said: ‘I kept blaming things when money went missing or did not appear, I never told her the truth about the debts I was in and where the money I got went.
‘There came a point where she had enough and gave me an ultimatum – to buy some time I made up a lie.
‘I told her I had issues with money being transferred to my account and with financial advisors and that I was asking advice from the Ombudsman.’
Cilliers told the court parachuting, which Mrs Cilliers considered a ‘huge part of her life’, had ‘never really done it for me’.
The court heard that Mrs Cilliers was a passionate and highly experienced sky diver
He said: ‘Victoria’s passion was skydiving but I had never done it, I never knew the route in but she told me about it and I thought I would give it a go.
‘Parachuting was not a passion of mine, it’s nice and a bit of an adrenaline thrill but it’s never really done it for me in that way.
‘I always jumped with other people, it’s exciting especially formation skydiving. I did a few competitions with the army – I thrive on competition.’
He added that he had never deployed a reserve parachute or owned his own parachute rig.
Mr Cilliers, left, said he had planned to propose to his his wife, left, while climbing a mountain
Cilliers explained rock climbling was his ‘passion’ and he had planned on proposing to Mrs Cilliers on top of Table Mountain in his native South Africa after he trained her how to climb.
He said: ‘Rock climbing was a passion of mine, I started teaching her as the plan was to climb Table Mountain in South Africa.
‘The plan was to propose to her when we climbed to the top of Table Mountain but she had a meltdown halfway up the mountain face so I had to make another plan.’
The court heard details of how Cilliers first came to the UK in 2000 on a working holiday visa and moved around the country working various jobs. He met ex-wife Carly Cilliers while working in a pub.
He married Carly in Oxford, and they later moved to Ipswich, Norfolk, where he was working as an assistant manager in a nightclub and decided to join the army.
Cilliers said: ‘In 2004 one day I was walking to work and came across an army careers office so I popped my head in, they asked if I wanted to join and it went from there.’
Cilliers, who said his father was in the South African army and raised him in a ‘regimented and disciplined lifestyle’, passed through the early stages of his career with ease and was awarded ‘best recruit’ in phase one of his training.
He had ambitions of joining the SAS and was posted in Plymouth, where he and Carly split up.
It is also alleged he tried to kill his wife by damaging a gas fitting at their home in Amesbury, Wiltshire, in a bid to cause an explosion shortly before the parachute jump.
Cilliers, who lives in army barracks at Aldershot, Hampshire, denies two counts of attempted murder and one count of criminal damage as to whether or not it recklessly endangers life.
The trial continues on Monday.
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