Rolf Schild

Businessman and kidnap victim

Rolf Schild, medical-equipment designer and manufacturer: born Cologne, Germany 18 May 1924; chairman, Huntleigh Technology 1975-2003; married 1959 Daphne Farley (two sons, one daughter); died Luton, Bedfordshire 14 April 2003.

Rolf Schild was a refugee from Nazi Germany who arrived in Britain penniless but built up a company which eventually became Huntleigh Technology, making state-of-the-art medical equipment that has won Queen's Awards for Industry. In 1979-80 he was better known for being, with his wife and daughter, the victim of a dreadful kidnapping.

In August 1979 he was holidaying in a villa in Sardinia with his family. There had been a spate of kidnappings, mostly of wealthy Italians who owned holiday villas on the island. A gang with more villainy than brains, who apparently took his name to be Rothschild, laid in wait when Schild, his wife Daphne and daughter Annabel returned from dining with neighbours. The family were blindfolded, and bundled into a car, and driven for four hours to a cave in the mountains.

Sixteen days later a bus driver picked up the dishevelled Schild, who had been released with instructions to raise a preposterous £11m ransom – far more than the family had. The kidnappers kept changing their minds about how much they wanted, and some British newspapers speculated that the Schilds were far wealthier than they were, thus encouraging even greater demands from the kidnappers. They derided his down-payment of £12,000, burning the money.

Throughout the following winter Schild's wife and daughter were moved from one hiding place to another. When Daphne was released in January 1980, the press kept it secret to avoid prejudicing the 15-year-old Annabel's chances of release. That came in March after the Pope appealed on her behalf. The final amount of ransom paid was £220,000. Two years later, 13 men were found guilty of abduction and jailed.

Rolf Schild was born in Cologne, in 1924, the son of a textile manufacturer. He was unaware that he was Jewish until the start of organised anti-Semitism in 1938, and a year later was brought to England as part of the Kindertransport. Schild learned later what had happened to his parents: deported from Cologne to Lodz in 1940, they were gassed in Chernow in 1942.

In England, Rolf Schild was placed in hostels in Liverpool and Manchester and did factory work. He learned to use a capstan lathe in a government training centre and found work in a factory making film projectors, studying physics, electronics and engineering at night school. In 1949 he took a job with a medical engineering company, New Electronic Products, working on a heart-lung machine being developed by Hammersmith Hospital, and developing transducers.

A friend of Schild at Hawker Siddeley was looking for a low- pressure transducer for a medical application and was impressed with the one that Schild designed and made. Schild said, "This is how engineers work: you piece different ideas from different experiences and put them together. They key is to find the application and create the solution." He had a sixth sense for solving problems, which he called "Fingerspitzengefühl", a feeling in the fingers.

In the early 1950s he left to start his own company, SE Technology, with a friend, Peter Epstein, a valve engineer. Their capital was £100 and Epstein's father's house was security on a bank loan. They soon won a government contract for the Blue Streak intercontinental ballistic missile. By 1963 the company, which employed 300 people, went public.

Three years later they were bought up by EMI and Schild worked on the first whole-body scanners. EMI had little confidence in the project, but changed their minds when Schild sold 50 on a trip to the United States; then one of the directors wanted to take it over from him. Schild left to found what is now Huntleigh Technology.

He was appointed OBE in 1997 and awarded the German Order of Merit for his contribution to Anglo-German relations. The company is now worth £200m, and most of its products – ultrasonic equipment to measure blood flow and foetal heartbeats, pneumatic garments to assist blood flow, hospital beds, and mattresses designed to prevent bedsores – are based on Schild's designs.

Caroline Richmond

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Executive

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading and innovative con...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue