Family 'took sudden holiday after father's recent trip to Baghdad'


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The Independent Online

The British holidaymaker murdered in France along with two other people – believed to be his wife and mother-in-law – left the UK "on the spur of the moment", a close family friend said yesterday.

Neither his friend nor his accountant had any idea that he was going on holiday until days before he and his family left for France. Neighbours said yesterday that Saad Al-Hilli, 50, left his home country, Iraq, many years ago after his family "fell out" with Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.

His friend, who gave his name only as James, said he last spoke to Mr Al-Hilli – who lived with his wife Ikbal and daughters Zainab and Zeena – on Friday 24 August, when he called him asking if he wanted to meet for a coffee in Guildford, expecting him to be at work. "I phoned him but he told me he was at home and had taken two weeks off," he said, adding that Mr Al-Hilli had made no mention until that point that he was planning to do so.

Mr Al-Hilli's accountant, Julian Steadman, of Steadman and Co, a couple of streets from Mr Al-Hilli's home in Claygate, Surrey, said he saw him the evening he set off for Dover to catch the ferry to Calais. "He was rushing around because he had a lot to sort out. He needed to file his VAT return at short notice and pick up his mother-in-law from Reading," Mr Steadman said, adding that Mr Al-Hilli's accounts revealed that he had been working hard in the preceding weeks. To his knowledge, there was nothing in Mr Al-Hilli's financial affairs to suggest he was in any trouble.

James, whose daughter went to playgroup with Mr Al-Hilli's youngest child and who used to dine with the family regularly, said Mr Al-Hilli worked as a freelance computer-aided design engineer and had first come to the UK in the 1970s after the family business was seized by the Baath Party. He added that he had recently returned to Iraq to claim back the Baghdad premises where his family had a mechanical engineering business before it was sequestered by Saddam.

Members of the Iraqi community in London said that some members of Mr Al-Hilli's family, which comes from the Karrada district of Baghdad, were involved in politics but it remained unclear whether they had faced any direct threats.

Mr Al-Hilli is said to have met his wife, Ikbal, in Dubai while she was working as a dentist. Residents in Claygate were coming to terms with both the shocking news of the murders and the international attention that descended upon them. One man, who came to lay flowers at the mock Tudor house, said the Al-Hillis could not have been a nicer family. A neighbour described them as "lovely".

Friends said Mr Al-Hilli had previously lived in Pimlico in central London and was a keen cyclist. He used to ride his bike to Surrey and decided to move to Claygate when he was on one of his rides. His elderly parents had lived with the family until they passed away, neighbours said.

A neighbour, who did not want to be named, said yesterday: "The family are very nice and friendly. The two girls are really sweet and pretty. The eldest went to the local primary school and the youngest was going to start."