Every year, thousands of people cross an item off their bucket list by leaping out of an aeroplane above Netheravon airfield’s broad, flat grass plain. It’s the largest parachute drop zone in the UK, but unremarkable to look at: military land, little more than two blue and white Cessnas waiting to take off, a few billowing orange windsocks and some picnic tables. There’s an enormous khaki hangar with a corrugated iron roof. This is where the kit room is, where the toilets are, and where Emile Cilliers tried to get away with murdering his wife.
On Saturday 4 April 2015, he took Victoria Cilliers’ parachute rig into the toilets and sabotaged it. The next day, Easter Sunday, Vicky leapt from one of the Cessnas and fell like a rag doll underneath her flailing canopy, 4,000ft (1,200m) to the ground at 60mph, to what should have been her death: the first people on the scene were so sure of it that they brought a body bag. But she was found alive, with a broken spine, fractured ribs and a shattered pelvis, surviving only because her small frame had landed in a soft, newly ploughed field.
It was Cilliers’ second attempt to kill Vicky in less than a week. But it took two criminal trials to prove it, and even after Cilliers was found guilty of two counts of attempted murder in May, and given a life sentence with a minimum term of 18 years in June, the victim herself says she refuses to believe her husband tried to kill her. When someone survives an attempt on their life, it should be a huge advantage for the police investigation. But Vicky Cilliers’ survival made it difficult to prosecute; Emile Cilliers was convicted in spite of her evidence, rather than because of it.