Jessica was the daughter of Angela and Ian Gilbert and was raised in Woldingham, Surrey. She attended Croydon High School. Her father was a career manager with the Royal Bank of Scotland. Gilbert's parents had separated in 2003, and Jessica was living in Reigate with her mother and siblings, while her father had remarried to a lawyer named Sally, and lived in Hackney, east London.
Jessica Gilbert had represented England in every major chess competition from the age of 12, and came to prominence when she won the Women’s World Amateur Chess Championship in 1999. She was mentioned in a parliamentary debate by the then sports minister, Tony Banks, who said: "We are extremely proud of what Jessie Gilbert has achieved for chess and for this country."
She also gained the Woman FIDE Master (WFM) title from the game's governing body, FIDE. In recognition of her achievement, the Brain Trust charity and Swedish health care company Bure provided Gilbert with a bursary of £4000 so that she could travel to America to study with grandmaster Edmar Mednis in New York City.
Gilbert had won a place at the University of Oxford to study medicine from September 2005, but decided to take a gap year in order to spend time focused solely on chess. In the space of only a few months in early 2006, Gilbert achieved three "norms" in major chess tournaments.
On the night of 26 July 2006, she fell from the eighth floor of the Hotel Labe, in Pardubice, Czech Republic, where she was playing at the Czech Open. On the evening of her death, it was reported she had consumed beer and vodka from the room's minibar. Jessica had been sharing the room with a 14-year-old friend and fellow chess-player. Her friend got up to visit the bathroom sometime in the early morning. When she returned, Jessica was missing, and the friend assumed that she had gone for a walk.
Some of her acquaintances came forward to claim that Jessica was a sleepwalker, and that she could have fallen to her death through the window, which would have been left open due to the hot weather in Europe at the time. But the authorities and the Czech Open organizer Jiri Petruzalek pointed to suicide as the cause. Jessica was said to be taking anti-depressants, and it was later revealed that she had a history of self-harm and had tried suicide previously using paracetamol tablets.
Trial of Ian Gilbert
Two days following her death, it emerged that her father, Ian Gilbert, had previously been charged with seven counts of rape and two counts of indecent assault. The charges were said to relate to more than one victim. British police would not name the alleged victims, but confirmed that one of them was dead. On 29 July 2006, the British press began to name Jessica Gilbert as one of the victims.
At the time of Jessica's death, Mr Gilbert had not yet entered a plea to the charges. If she had lived, and he had pleaded not guilty, that would have raised the prospect of Jessica having to give evidence against her father, and being cross-examined by his barrister. Mr Gilbert was released on bail, pending his case starting at Guildford Crown Court on 21 August 2006. On 31 July 2006, the Crown Prosecution Service said that they would be reviewing the case in the light of the media coverage of Jessica Gilbert's death.
When the trial started, he entered a plea of not guilty. On 7 November 2006 the prosecution played a tape recording of Jessica in interview with Surrey police. She told officers of the first attack by her father when she was eight: "I was asleep and he sat on my bed and I woke up. He didn’t say anything. I did not scream or anything because he had his hand over my mouth and I was really scared." She said there were at least another eight such attacks over the next five years. She also told the officers her father tried to strangle her by wrapping a computer lead around her neck, and would walk into the bathroom at their home in Woldingham while she was showering.
On 14 December 2006, Mr Gilbert was found not guilty of all charges against him. He speculated that Jessie had accused him as the means of revenge after some arguments they had. Two days later it was reported that Angela Gilbert had been arrested on suspicion of threatening to kill her ex-husband, although she was later released and the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to proceed with the case.
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- "?". AOL. 16 December 2006. Retrieved Down?. Check date values in:
- The tormented life of Jessie Gilbert, Chessbase, 8 August 2006
- Jessie Gilbert chess games
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- Chess talent Jessie Gilbert dies at 19, Chessbase News, 27 July 2006