POLICE investigating the brutal killing of three members of a British family told yesterday of the grisly scene which confronted them at a beauty spot in the French Alps.
Iraqi-born Saad al-Hilli was found in the driver’s seat of the car, with his wife, named locally as Iqbal, and another woman found on the back seat with a number of bags. French cyclist Sylvain Mollier was found dead nearby after police said he was apparently in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Public prosecutor Eric Maillaud described the scene as being like something from a film and said 15 cartridges were found around the car and a “very large number” of shots had been fired.
The firearm used is believed to have been an automatic pistol.
A British cyclist, a former RAF serviceman who had been overtaken by the French rider on a quiet forest road, discovered the massacre in a car park.
Mr al-Hilli’s seven-year-old daughter Zainab came towards him badly injured and collapsed, and he gave her first aid before finding Mr Mollier beside the still-running BMW car. Breaking a window to turn off the engine, he discovered the three bodies inside. He then called emergency services.
A four-year-old girl, Zeena, was found hiding beneath bodies in the car eight hours later by investigators.
Mr Maillaud defended the delay, saying it was important to the investigators to ensure that the inquiry was as rigorous as possible.
“Things have to be done with method, otherwise we can’t find the people responsible for the crime,” he said.
“At the time of the intervention of the emergency services, nothing allowed us to think that there was somebody else in the car. There was no way of knowing.
“Can you imagine the state of the young girl, four years old, has spent eight hours under a body that was not moving...”
The family had travelled to the Le Solitaire du Lac campsite in Saint-Jorioz, close to the Swiss border.
It was a neighbour at the campsite who told investigators there were two children, but there was only one child seat in the car, Mr Maillaud said.
Police yesterday removed the powerful BMW for further tests. Swedish and Iraqi passports had been recovered along with the driver’s British passport.
Investigators were also inspecting a caravan used by the family at the campsite.
One woman said: “I saw the two women yesterday with the two little girls collecting apples.
“Everything seemed normal, but I didn’t know them. It was the first year that they had been seen here. It is terrible.”
Cyclist Mr Mollier worked for a firm based some miles away and was identified after his wife became worried when he did not return from a bike ride. She went to a local police station with a photograph of her husband and officers established he was the fourth victim.
Mr Maillaud praised the actions of the former RAF member who found the family: “He had a strong command of his nerves. We must welcome his action and congratulate him.”
The family lived in the upmarket village of Claygate in Surrey. Mr al-Hilli worked as a freelance design engineer.
One neighbour, Jack Saltman, told the BBC he was going to alert police to something Mr al-Hilli had said to him before going away.
“I know one little thing which I am not prepared to speak (about) at the moment,” he said. “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 Saltman described his neighbour as “a massively helpful man, a wonderful engineer” who helped him repair household machinery when it broke down.
Mr al-Hilli had said the family was 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”. Mrs al-Hilli, he said, was a trainee dentist working at a local practice.
“They are quite beautiful kids and so well behaved. He was an extraordinarily nice man and helpful. His wife was a delightful person and I can’t think why anybody would want to harm them,” he added. “When I stop to think about it I’ll cry for those little kiddies. What sort of life are they going to have now?”
Another neighbour, Lorna Davey, said her daughter attended Claygate Primary School with Zainab, while Zeena was due to start at the school this year.