Everton fan was to retire to his own paradise

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Until eight days ago, No 54 was as unremarkable as the rest of Bedford Street. Yesterday, the terraced home in Walton, Liverpool, was surrounded with the full paraphernalia of a global news event.

Here, Lil Bigley and her husband, Tom, had brought up their four sons. This week, Mrs Bigley, 86, waited with two of them, Stan, 67, a retired driving instructor, and Philip, 49, for news of her second eldest, Ken, who was kidnapped nine days ago in Baghdad.

With them was Ken's surviving son, Craig, 33, soon to become a father himself.

Paul, the third brother, was at home in Amsterdam, also hoping against hope after learning the two American hostages taken with Ken were beheaded.

He last saw his brother when he dropped him off for his flight to Baghdad. Ken intended one last six-month stint as a civil engineer before retiring to his new home in Thailand with his second wife, Sombat, 42, whom he met 10 years ago in Dubai.

Ken Bigley assured his brother that he would be staying on an American military base and working in the Green Zone, the fortress-like compound from which the US-led coalition operates. Kidnappers, he said, could not touch him. Paul explained: "He didn't want us to worry. That was typical of Ken. We did not know he was staying in the house where he was kidnapped. He loved Iraq - the place and the people. I suppose he just wanted to be nearer them. But at what cost?"

Their mother, christened Elizabeth, had been brought up in Ticknock, a village in the Wicklow mountains. When she emigrated, she stayed in the city where she landed.

In 1937, she married Tom Bigley, a fitter at the Merseyside docks. He was a disciplinarian, though the parents clearly both adored their sons. Paul explained: "I asked my father before he died why he was so strict with us. He said: 'Well, just look where you are now. I wanted you to be successful'."

The family was well respected. Neighbours described how Lil and her sister, Peggy, who lives next door, worked as home helps for Liverpool social services, visiting the elderly.

One resident said: "They were excellent. They were known as Lil and Peg. They always went the extra mile. They were inseparable."

A similar bond built between the brothers. They would meet on Friday nights at the local pub. Paul said: "Beatlemania passed us by. We were just an ordinary working-class family. Ken was and is my best mate. He has a wild sense of humour. He would just tell some stories that would just have you walking to the toilets with your legs crossed."

Ken attended Birchfield Road Secondary Modern. A fanatical fan of Everton football club, he could be found on the terraces of nearby Goodison Park every weekend. While bright, he left school at 16 for an apprenticeship with a Liverpool firm making surgical instruments. He later joined a larger engineering firm.

After emerging from his National Service with the Scots Guards, he married his sweetheart, Margaret Hose, at the age of 21. The couple bought their £10 tickets to Australia in 1963, and emigrated.

He worked as an engineer in Victoria, before moving to New Zealand, where Ken became managing director of an engineering firm. But Margaret's father became ill, she was also homesick, and there was also the lure of a bigger job back home. The family - there were now two young sons - returned to Liverpool. He became managing director of an engineering firm on Merseyside, but grew bored. Styling himself instead as an entrepreneur, Mr Bigley bought two decent-sized supermarkets in Hoylake, Wirral. But when his wife narrowly escaped serious injury in an armed robbery, the pair made the decision to sell up and buy the Rodney Stoke Inn, close to Cheddar Gorge in Somerset.

Paul said: "He tried a few things and for various reasons they didn't work. But the pub was the thing he was really excited about. He really thought this was it - the place he could raise his kids and settle down. He thought it would be the life of Riley, pulling pints and chatting." It was not to be.

Eighteen years ago this week, Ken's eldest son, Paul, 17, and named after his uncle, was cycling to the bank to pay his pocket money into the bank. He was hit by a lorry and went into a coma. A week later, his father had to turn off his son's life-support machine. Paul Bigley said: "It was disastrous for Ken. His marriage could not withstand the shock. He split up from Margaret and asked me if I could help him find some work."

After a brief period running a bar on the Costa del Sol, Mr Bigley decided he wanted to go further afield and approached his brother, who had worked in Lebanon during its perilous civil war. His work with the Gulf Supplies and Construction Services, an engineering company based in the United Arab Emirates, took him throughout the region: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Oman and, finally, Baghdad.

Among his few requests to his family in Liverpool was that he be sent copies of the local newspaper, the Liverpool Echo, to keep up to date on Everton's exploits. At the end of this month, he expected to finish his work, overseeing the rebuilding of housing stock owned by the Iraqi Electricity Ministry.

Staying with his two American colleagues in the wealthy Mansour district of west Baghdad, the Briton showed little concern for his safety and detested armed guards. He frequently spoke with neighbours, allowing them to use the electricity supply and discussing football. One neighbour said: "Two weeks ago I told him, 'Why are you here? It's dangerous, there are kidnappers.' He waved his arm and said, 'I'm not afraid. You only die once'."

Mr Bigley was about to collect a large bonus, then retire to his own paradise.