Date: 4 Jul 2003
Stephen Hilder died after he went skydiving with a parachute that had been sabotaged.
An open verdict was recorded after it was suggested that he might have sabotaged his parachute himself to make his suicide look like murder.
Stephen Hilder had gone skydiving at Hibaldstow Airfield in North Lincolnshire in July 2003 and jumped from 13,000 feet, but all the straps on his parachute had been cut and he fell to his death.
He was an army cadet at the Defence Academy in Shrivenham, Wiltshire and an experienced skydiver. He was said to have been obsessed with skydiving and had even missed important exams to go skydiving.
It was heard that he was in debt, that his girlfriend was breaking up with him and he was convinced he was going to fail his degree for the second time and that he might have wanted to commit suicide.
A friend of his said that Stephen Hilder had said that if he ever committed suicide that he would do something amazing and had even specifically mentioned jumping out of a plane.
At his inquest, the police said that they were absolutely convinced that he had sabotaged his own parachute. They said that his DNA was found on the parachute straps and a pair of scissors was found in his locked car that had traces of strap fabric on them. Minute traces of strap fabric were also found on his t-shirt that only he had worn.
However, a man that worked for the British Parachuting Association said that he was of the opinion that if a person was going to commit suicide that it didn't make sense that they would cut their own straps and then go through all the emergency drills in freefall. The man said that he had carried out 60 investigations into parachutist’s deaths in the UK since 1982 and that he had never come across a case like this before.
The inquest also heard statements from former girlfriends who said that Stephen Hilder was not the type to commit suicide, and that he certainly wouldn't do it skydiving. They said that he was a confident and positive person.
At the inquest, it was heard that had £17,000 debt on a number of credit cards and had had a cheque bounce at the academy mess for £200 and had subsequently resulted in him being summoned by a major and given serious advice about the standards of integrity expected in potential army officers.
However, video evidence was shown of him on the planes ascent, grinning and looking unconcerned.
There were also no signs that he was suicidal and he had not left a suicide note. The police also said that they found no evidence of a secret life and said that investigations in gay bars had revealed nothing.
It was said that he had failed to get into Cambridge University and instead had gone to Bristol University where he failed his first year and had even missed an exam when he had decided to go skydiving instead. It was said that he was convinced that he had failed his first year at university again after retaking it.
He was said to have hit the ground at 120mph.
It was said that he had possibly searched for a way out of his troubles and had decided that jumping from a plane was an honourable way out for him as he did not want to be considered a failure.