Two men arrested over skydiver parachute murder

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The Independent Online

TWo skydivers were being questioned on suspicion of murder last night after they were held by police investigating the death of a student who was killed when his parachute was sabotaged.

Detectives arrested the two men at lunchtime yesterday following a 14-week investigation into the killing of 20-year-old Stephen Hilder, who died when the cords on his main and reserve parachutes were cut before he jumped from 13,000ft above a Lincolnshire airfield.

The death of the Army cadet on 4 July during an annual student skydiving competition left police struggling to uncover a motive or clear suspects for a killing which they said could have been carried out only with specialist knowledge.

Humberside police said the two men, both aged 19, were arrested at Scunthorpe police station at 12.45pm before being to taken separate locations for interview.

A police spokeswoman said: "The men have been detained on suspicion of murder. We cannot discuss where they are from but our inquiries are still ongoing and we appeal for anyone with information to come forward."

Mr Hilder was taking part in a formation jump from Hilbadstow airfield in north Lincolnshire when he was killed. He died instantly from multiple injuries from the impact of his fall into a cornfield.

The early stages of the jump, which was the culmination of his participation in the British Collegiate Parachute Association National Championships, was caught on film by a fellow parachutist. Wearing a blue helmet, the engineering student, from Burghill, Herefordshire, gave a thumbs up to the camera as he jumped from the plane and was then seen letting go of his team-mates in the formation.

The cords which open his main parachute and the strapping on his reserve chute had been cut and carefully repacked, leaving Mr Hilder with no inkling that neither would open as he fell to the ground at a speed of 120mph.

The initial focus of the police investigation was a fancy dress party the evening before the tragedy, which was attended by the student along with 70 others dressed in exotic costume.

Detectives said the killer may have used the party to slip away and tamper with Mr Hilder's kit, which was clearly identifiable and kept in a nearby storage facility. A police spokesman said: "The killer would have to have been someone who knew about parachutes."

It was also announced last month that Mr Hilder, an Army cadet, who was being groomed as a potential officer, may have had a secret meeting with his killer three days before he died.

Credit card records show that he drove to a service station on the outskirts of Scunthorpe on 1 July in his white Vauxhall Belmont, and bought £14 worth of supplies.

Humberside Police last night declined to discuss whether the two men arrested had volunteered themselves at Scunthorpe police station.

A student at the Royal Military College of Science in Shrivenham, Oxfordshire, Mr Hilder had completed 200 jumps in Britain, France and South Africa despite only taking up the sport 21 months before his death. His family said he had developed an "absolute love" for skydiving.

The hunt for his killer has spread across Europe, as police sent posters to a number of parachuting clubs in Ireland, Germany and Cyprus, appealing for help.

It is thought the killer may have learned how to sabotage the parachute from a report in an American skydiving magazine in 1996, which gave precise details of a similar incident in Illinois.