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The tormented life of Jessie Gilbert

8/7/2006 – Ten days ago we reported on the death of 19-year-old chess talent Jessie Gilbert, member of the English Olympiad team, who fell from the eighth floor window of a hotel during a tournament in Pardubice, Czech Republic. We did not delve into the very distressing circumstances of her death, but now details have appeared in all the British broadsheets.
 

On a Saturday issue the Daily Mail in London devoted its entire front page to the story. The text is available on the Internet on the Daily Mail news page.

Apparently Jessie Gilbert, the 19-year-old member of the English chess squad, committed suicide. The teenager had been tormented by the prospect of appearing in court, during criminal proceedings against her father, Ian Gilbert, a City banker who has been charged with seven counts of rape and two of indecent assault. He is on bail awaiting trail at Guildford Crown Court on August 21.

Jessie's life had been thrown into turmoil after her father was charged with raping her. As part of the police inquiry she had been interviewed by detectives in the rape suit and given them a video-taped statement in connection with the allegation. If her father denied the charges when he appeared in court his daughter faced the harrowing prospect of giving evidence against her own father, and being cross-examined by his barrister.


Jessie Gilbert at the Chess Olympiad in Turin [Photo Pufichek]

Jessie, who became a chess world champion at the age of 11, had been sharing a room at the Hotel Labe in Pardubice with her best friend and fellow chess player Amisha Parmar, 14. On the night of the tragedy, the two girls drank heavily in their room. At some point the younger girl, who was not used to drinking, became ill and went to the bathroom. When she emerged, Jessie had gone but Amisha didn't realise what had happened.

The detective in charge of the investigations reported that the incident occurred around midnight. Amisha assumed that Jessie had gone for a walk to get some fresh air. But at 3.30 a.m. she was woken and told that her friend had died. [The Times reports that Amisha woke to find Jessie’s bed was empty. When she failed to return after 30 minutes, she roused her mother Krishna and older sister Jyoti, who were staying in a neighbouring room. Jessie was found dead in a tree below her window.]

Amisha told Czech police that Jessie had attempted to hurt herself a couple of times before, by cutting her wrists with a broken bottle, but had never told her family about it.


Jessie's best friend Amisha Parma [Photo Helen Milligan]

Amisha, who is Britain's top chess player in her age group, was broken-hearted and blamed herself. They were sharing a room, and she was her closest friend. Amisha was too distressed to continue with the tournament and flew home to Ilkeston, Derbyshire.

At the time of her death Jessie had been living with her mother and her three sisters at their home in Reigate, after the family home in Woldingham was sold. Her father now lives with his second wife in east London.


Nigel Short on Jessie Gilbert's death

It is with a heavy heart that I must mention the tragic death, suspected to be suicide, of 19-year-old Jessie Gilbert, last week in Pardubice, the Czech Republic. Her father stands trial later this month accused of raping her.

I met Jessie both in Istanbul and Gibraltar during the last year, but barely exchanged more than a few words with her, as she seemed so painfully shy. One morning, during the Turin Olympiad in May, after prompting from her England teammates, she confessed that I had been her inspiration for years. "Well, I didn't know what you were like," she explained, to general great amusement. "You are obviously a highly intelligent young woman," I reassured her, to smiles.

She was very good-natured and likeable. When I look at the happy photos of Jessie from Italy and from South Africa (she was on her gap year before going up to Oxford to study medicine), I can hardly believe she is no longer with us.


Jessie Gilbert (right) playing at the Gibtelecom Chess Festival in January 2006

Jessie first burst into prominence as an 11-year-old when she won the amateur world championship for women. To be frank, it was an achievement that sounded more impressive than it was (the tournament was not that representative), but it nevertheless indicated great potential in one so young. Judged by demanding criteria, she perhaps did not quite fully live up to that early promise. That is not, by any means, to imply that Jessie's brief career was a failure. Far from it – she had already become a respected member of the England women's team as a teenager and undoubtedly, with expected maturity, would have remained a permanent fixture for many years to come. Her aggressive style meant that she was a dangerous opponent for even much higher rated opposition, as International Master Kidambi Sundararjan found. [Nigel annotates a game in which Jessie beat Jundararjan with the black pieces at the Gibtelecom Masters in Gibraltar. It can be found in his original Guardian Chess column.]

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