‘They were very pretty girls and a nice, happy family’

A neighbour of the British family who were brutally killed in the French Alps has described Saad al Hilli as a “massively helpful man” and “a wonderful engineer”.

Jack Saltman said Mr al Hilli had fixed his household machinery when it broke down. The Saltman and Hilli homes in Claygate, Surrey, back on to one another.

“His two daughters were absolutely gorgeous, they were beautiful little girls,” Mr Saltman added.

“Zainab, the elder girl, highly articulate, highly intelligent girl. The little girl was vivacious, full of life, a really bubbly little girl.

“They used to play together in the back garden and when I was working in the garden, they would always come over and have a chat.”

He said Mr al Hilli had said they were going to France for around a week-and-a-half to try to “get a bit of extra holiday in before the kids went back to school”.

Iqbal al Hilli, his wife, was a trainee dentist working at a local practice.

However, Mr Saltman said he couldn’t forget a comment made by Mr al Hilli before he went on holiday.

Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, he said: “I know one little thing which I am not prepared to speak [about] at the moment. I will tell the police about it.

“It was something Saad said to me before he went but at this stage I do not feel I can disclose that but I will tell the police exactly what he told me before he left.”

Mr al Hilli, who was born in Iraq, moved to the UK in the 1970s, his friend said. He worked as a freelance computer-aided design engineer and had previously helped with designs for the Airbus A380 aeroplane.

Mr al Hilli’s accountant, Julian Stedman, said he believed the older woman in the gunshot-splattered car was Iqbal’s mother.

Mr Stedman had spoken to Mr al Hilli the day he left for France. “The day he was going I was trying rapidly to get his Vat return done. He was rushing down to collect his mother-in-law from Reading. I think she was the person who was with them [the family].”

Mr Stedman said he did not know Mr al Hilli personally but described him as a “family man” who shared his interest in caravanning.

“I met him every quarter — he came round here to do his Vat return with me. I would occasionally go to his house to pick things up and see his wife and children. He was a very hard-working family man who loved his children.

“He never talked about what he did in Iraq, he has been in the UK for quite a long time. Most of his family are over here as far as I know.

“We had a mutual interest in caravanning. He used to go to France on holiday in his caravan, I did as well so we exchanged some information about caravans.”

Mr al Hilli set up the company in 2001 and got most of his work through industry contacts. The company was “doing well”, Mr Stedman said.

Neighbour Lorna Davey said her daughter attended Claygate Primary School with Zainab, while Zeena was due to start at the school this year.

“They were very pretty, smiley little girls and a very nice, happy family.”

More in this section

War of Independence Podcast

A special four-part series hosted by Mick Clifford

New episodes available each Tuesday during December

Available on

Commemorating 100 years since the War of Independence