Globetrotting engineer dreamed of settling down in Thailand

AFTER a career spent working across the globe and a life punctuated with heartache, Kenneth Bigley hoped Iraq would be his last posting before he settled into happy retirement at a new home in Bangkok.

The twice-married 62-year-old, who has one son and lost a second in a tragic road accident, had planned to finish a contract at a US military base within months, return to his Thai wife and prepare for the birth of his first grandchild. He talked of his plans for retirement on the night-time strolls he took around the streets of Mansour, the wealthy Baghdad suburb where he lived in a guarded two-storey house with fellow workers.

Those colleagues, Americans Jack Hensley and Eugene Armstrong, were beheaded by captors from the Tawhid and Jihad group.

At his mother Lil’s red-brick terrace in Walton, Liverpool, and at wife Sombat’s home in Bangkok, Kenneth’s family had been left to hope the genial civil engineer did not meet the same gruesome fate. The desperate figure they witnessed pleading for his life in a video appeal to British Prime Minister Tony Blair is a man they could scarcely recognise as their generous and relaxed relative.

Kenneth was born in the streets close to his beloved Everton’s Goodison Park to mother Elizabeth, originally from Stepaside, Co Dublin, and father, Thomas, a shipyard worker.

He was one of four brothers. After leaving school, Kenneth took an apprenticeship and later completed national service.

He married his childhood sweetheart Margaret and in 1967 showed the first signs of passion for travel, moving to Australia on a £10 assisted passage offered at the time to skilled British immigrants.

He first worked as an engineer in Victoria where the couple’s first son Craig, now 33 and due to become a father in February, was born.

The family moved on to New Zealand, but the offer of a job as the managing director of a engineering firm drew them back to Merseyside. Later, the couple bought two supermarkets in the Wirral, but were left in shock when a suspected thief threatened Margaret with a hammer.

The family moved to Somerset and bought a pub. But in 1986, their 17-year-old son Paul was knocked down by a lorry and fell into a coma. Kenneth was forced to make the devastating decision to turn off his son’s life support machine and as he and his wife struggled with the grief their marriage broke down.

Determined to rebuild his life, Kenneth again left Britain and opened a pub in Spain, working there for two years. He then resumed his engineering career in the Middle East.

Seven years ago, he married for a second time, to Sombat, who hoped her husband would join her in the next few weeks at their newly-built home in Thailand.

As the situation in Baghdad deteriorated, Sombat and his brother Paul had pleaded with Kenneth to leave, but neighbours in Iraq said he had few concerns about his own safety.

He is reported to have allowed neighbours to hook up to his generator, an act which may have drawn the attention of his captors.

One neighbour said they had challenged his attitude to safety, but Kenneth replied simply: “I’m not afraid. You only die once.”

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