Skydiver who fell to his death 'had study and money troubles'

A student who plunged 13,000ft to his death after his parachute straps were deliberately cut was beset by academic and financial problems and about to break up with his girlfriend, an inquest was told.

The death of Stephen Hilder, 20, in July 2003 triggered Humberside Police's biggest criminal investigation after it appeared that his parachute had been sabotaged. But behind Mr Hilder's "ebullient", sophisticated image was a troubled individual, harbouring the mistaken impression that he had failed his examinations after a "poor" first year on a course he had not enjoyed at the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham, Wiltshire.

Despite receiving a £7,500 army salary while studying, Mr Hilder was "having difficulty raising funds" in the week before his death, Stuart Atkinson, the North Lincolnshire coroner, heard at Scunthorpe Town Hall yesterday.

He owed a total of £17,080, through loans, credit cards, store cards and unpaid bills. The debt included a £223 mess bill at Shrivenham. He had tried to settle that debt with a cheque that bounced, prompting a meeting with a major at his college, the inquest was told. The major censured him for a "lack of personal integrity and officer quality". Mr Hilder was also about to part, by mutual consent, from Ruth Woodhouse - the girlfriend he had met at Shrivenham.

Humberside Police now consider it a "strong possibility" that he took his own life in the fateful jump with the three-man Black Rain formation team at Hibaldstow airport, north Lincolnshire. "He did not want to be a failure and the manner of his death was honourable for him," Detective Inspector Barry Longstaff told the inquest.

Scientific evidence supports the theory, the coroner heard. Mr Hilder's DNA was found on a six-inch, orange handled kitchen knife recovered from the boot of his car, which was used to cut the parachute strap. "If it was murder, [then] the murderer would have [needed] to gain access to the car, not leave his DNA on the scissors but not remove Stephen's," said Detective Superintendent Colin Andrews, who led the 10-month investigation. "I would never say never to anything but the murder investigation is now formally closed."

Det Insp Longstaff said Mr Hilder had told a friend three years ago that "if he took his own life he would want to do something amazing". He also told his Black Rain team-mate Adrian Blair - who was initially a murder suspect - that he would "jump out of an aeroplane if he took his own life". Mr Blair and David Mason, the team's third member, were also arrested on suspicion of murder, it emerged at the inquest.

Humberside Police has admitted that it regrets its long delay in examining the key piece of forensic evidence - the scissors found in the car, which Mr Hilder had left unlocked and with the key in the ignition. Det Supt Andrews confirmed that the boot of the car was not subjected to initial DNA testing. Instead, it was given away to a youth charity and valeted several times before detectives re-examined it.

The inquest, which is expected to last for about one week, continues today.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
A poster by Durham Constabulary
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Emily McDowell Card that reads:
artCancer survivor Emily McDowell kicks back at the clichés
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvBadalamenti on board for third series
Life and Style
Standing room only: the terraces at Villa Park in 1935
Ben Stokes celebrates with his team mates after bowling Brendon McCullum
sportEngland vs New Zealand report
Amal Clooney has joined the legal team defending 'The Hooden Men'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine