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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 March, 2005, 17:26 GMT
Skydiver's death 'set up' theory
Stephen Hilder
Stephen Hilder fell 13,000ft to his death when his parachute failed
Skydiver Stephen Hilder may have wanted to make his death look like murder, an inquest has been told.

The 20-year-old carried out the correct safety checks before plunging 13,000ft to his death at Hibaldstow Airfield, North Lincolnshire in July 2003.

Tony Butler, a parachuting accident investigator, told the inquest that anyone wanting to commit suicide would not go through all the drills.

"Unless you wanted it to look like murder," coroner Stewart Atkinson said.

'Not logical'

Mr Butler, who works for the British Parachuting Association, did not disagree with the North Lincolnshire Coroner.

But he said it was his opinion that if someone was going to commit suicide it "did not seem logical" that they cut all the straps and then carry out emergency drills in freefall.

Mr Butler told the Scunthorpe inquest: "Never in all my years have I come across any incident like this."

Since 1982 Mr Butler said he had investigated 60 deaths in the UK.

Hibaldstow Airfield near Brigg
Stephen Hilder died at Hibaldstow airfield in North Lincolnshire

The majority of these were caused by collisions or by deploying the parachute too low.

The expert witness said Mr Hilder had not allowed his colleagues to check his rig while they were in the plane - but this was common practice with experienced parachutists.

Earlier, a harrowing video showing the body of Mr Hilder after his fateful jump was played to the court.

Mr Butler said when he was assigned to the case he was working on the theory that Mr Hilder had been murdered.

The parachute expert said that he believed the straps had been cut with a knife.

Det Supt Colin Andrews, who led the investigation clarified the police view for the coroner.

He said he was initially told by forensic scientists there would be no fabrics present at the scene and officers concentrated on finding DNA evidence.

He was told it was likely that a knife had been used to cut the rig and not scissors and officers had searched for knives in the store room where the parachutes were kept.

'Not suicide type'

The inquest on Thursday also heard statements from several of Mr Hilder's former girlfriends who all described him as a confident and positive person.

One, of them, Leah Ruth Parle, said the Army cadet was not the "type to commit suicide" and he certainly would not do it skydiving.

The coroner also read out statements from Mr Hilder's parents.

His mother, Mary, said: "He was a person of contrasting personality traits.

"He could be an extremely private person, comfortable in his own company. He could also be extremely sociable."

Before being adjourned until Friday, the inquest was told Mr Hilder had a strong Christian faith and had converted to Catholicism shortly before his death.

Police initially investigated the death as a murder


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