A skydiver who plunged 13,000ft to his death after his parachute had been sabotaged had personal problems including substantial debts and a failed relationship, an inquest heard yesterday.
Army cadet Stephen Hilder, from Herefordshire, had racked up more than £17,000 in debts through bank loans, credit cards, store cards and unpaid bills, the Scunthorpe inquest was told.
Shortly before his death in July 2003, the 20-year-old had agreed to split up with his girlfriend Ruth Woodhouse and he wrongly believed he had failed his degree course again.
Mr Hilder plunged to his death at Hibaldstow airfield in north Lincolnshire when both his main and reserve parachutes, which had been tampered with, failed to open.
The inquest was told he appeared normal in the hours leading up to his death.
Moments after he jumped from the plane he plunged to the ground at 120mph. An onlooker watched as he fell towards a field with his arms outstretched and without a sign of a struggle.
Humberside Police initially treated his death as murder but after ten months of " intensive investigations" concluded there was no motive.
Skydiving friends David Mason, of Cambridge, and Adrian Blair, of Cornwall, who were both pallbearers at Mr Hilder's funeral, were arrested along with another man on suspicion of his murder but were later released without charge.
Detectives had questioned the three men after concerns were raised about the credibility of their initial statements.
Detective Superintendent Colin Andrews, who led the investigation, told the inquest they had publicly portrayed themselves as close friends of the skydiver whereas the truth was they had a "deep dislike of him".
At the inquest yesterday, officers involved in the case said they were satisfied that Mr Hilder was not murdered but because of his personal problems had possibly taken his own life.
The hearing heard that Mr Hilder's financial difficulties prompted a meeting with his Army boss at the Defence Academy in Shrivenham where he was a student.
The inquest was told he tried to pay a £223 mess bill with a cheque which bounced. He met the major at the college who criticised him for a "lack of personal integrity and a lack of officer quality".
Mr Andrews told North Lincolnshire Coroner Stewart Atkinson: "As the investigator in this case, there is a strong possibility that Stephen could have taken his own life, but I wouldn't say that's an absolute thought in my mind.
"What I would say is an absolute thought was that he wasn't murdered."
The inquest was told that Mr Hilder was brought up in Hereford and was "an academic high-flier at school".
He was offered a place at Cambridge University but failed the entrance exam. He then took up a place at Bristol University and won a scholarship from the Army.
It was at Bristol that Mr Hilder became interested in skydiving, which was to become his passion.
However, his academic achievements began to suffer as a result of his chosen sport and his marks were poor. He even failed to turn up for an exam, the inquest was told.
Mr Hilder ended up failing his first year at Bristol and later described it as his "biggest-ever regret", the inquest heard.
He reluctantly went to the Defence Academy in Shrivenham, near Swindon, Wiltshire, after considering his options, but he continued to struggle academically.
Detective Inspector Barry Longstaff, a detective involved in the case, said the view that Mr Hilder had taken his own life was further strengthened by forensic evidence, which found his DNA on three of the four cut sites on the parachute straps.
DNA evidence was also found on the orange scissors which had been discovered in his car boot.
Mr Longstaff added: "He did not want to be a failure. He died in a manner that meant his death would have been an honourable way out for him. He told a witness that if he was to take his own life he wanted to do something amazing."
The inquest continues.