Behind the impeccably clipped high hedges of their Surrey village home, the al-Hilli family fitted in perfectly with their middle-class neighbours. When visitors to their £1m home left their shoes at the door, they would invariably be greeted with tea and polite enquiries about their well-being.
A friend said that Saad al-Hilli, a self-employed engineer, helped repair his car and refused to take any money for it. "He said: 'That's what friends do'," said his friend, who asked to be named only as James. "He was a very hard worker. Last year he was driving down somewhere near Brighton for an eight-hour day before driving back again. They were quite a proud middle-class family."
Mr Hilli's wife, Ikbal, a Baghdad-trained dentist, was attempting to re-qualify to work in the UK, according to neighbours. However, the family's outward success apparently hid struggles both within the family and over the family's wealth in Iraq.
Mr al-Hilli was believed to have just returned from Iraq to try to claim back the family's engineering plant, which had been taken over by the regime of Saddam Hussein. The prominent Shia family had substantial assets there and had been using intermediaries to lobby the Shia government of Nouri al-Maliki to try to get it back, said Iraqi sources.
Colleagues spoke glowingly of Mr al-Hilli, a contractor for Surrey Satellite Technology in Guildford since November 2010. "Saad's colleagues will remember him as an experienced and committed engineer who worked as part of a tightly knit team," said chief executive Dr Matt Perkins. "He was a personal friend to many."
Mr al-Hilli, 50, and Ikbal latterly lived in the Claygate house with their children, his brother Zaid, and his father until the latter's death a year ago. Friends said the two brothers were in dispute over their inheritance, which reportedly included properties in Spain, Iraq and Switzerland.
Zaid appears to have left the house around the same time that he resigned, in January 2011, as secretary of Shtech Ltd, his brother's company, to be replaced by Mrs Hilli.
His brother has denied there was a feud but their relationship is now at the centre of the police inquiry. There was no answer yesterday at the flat where Zaid al-Hilli now lives in Chessington nor at the Walton-on-Thames house where Zaid Hilli's son is believed to live.