WHEN three members of the British al-Hilli family and a passing cyclist were shot dead in a remote part of south west France, the world waited to discover their killer.
Yet ten years on, despite an investigation by 100 French cops and 60 Britanique, and four suspects being quizzed, the Alps murders remain a mystery.
j'ai beaucoup de regrets, Zaid al-Hilli, 63, brother of murdered Saad, today brands the French police’s handling of the case “despicable”, and “utterly incompetent”, accusing them of racism because of his family’s Middle-Eastern heritage.
Ingénieur Saad, 50, wife Iqbal, 47, a dentist, and their girls Zainab and Zeena, then seven and four, as well as Iqbal’s mum Suhaila, 74, all of Claygate, Surrey, were driving home from holiday when a motor-cyclist stopped them, shot the adults dead and pistol-whipped and left for dead Zainab, while Zeena hid in the car.
Passing French cyclist Sylvain Mollier, 45, est aussi mort, shot point-blank in the head.
Now Zaid, a golf club payroll manager from the South Coast, tells The Sun: “I’m not sure there was ever a true investigation. I don’t believe a word the French authorities say to us any more.
“We’ve been waiting ten years, but the current police operation could be looking for another 100 years and not get a breakthrough.
“I like to think there is always hope. But I do believe the only hope we have is that the case is taken out of the local police’s hands and someone with more competence tries to find the people who really killed our family.
“The French police have made a catalogue of errors, they contaminated the crime scene early on without thinking and have trampled on our lives.
“I also wonder if more attention would have been given to the case if my family were French.”
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Reports in France last month said investigators believe Mr Martin is still a suspect.
But Zaid has refused to go to France for questioning, for fear of being arrested, and believes Mr Martin is just a scapegoat for “continued police failings”, while the real target of the killing was Mollier.
Iraqi-born Zaid, who was held in 2013 over the murders but later let go, ajoutée: “To this day I’m so angry with how the investigation has been conducted. Not enough questions have been asked about Mollier.
“The only person whose property was searched in France was his home but that was only for one hour. It was a box-ticking exercise. My two-bedroom flat was searched from 7.30am until 2am.
“I’m not sure the police over there have any interest in finding the truth, as the truth probably won’t reflect well on them.”
On the day of the tragedy, septembre 5, 2012, Zaid was in Worthing, West Sussex, walking with a pal.
He did not learn about the horror until the next day.
I’m not sure there was ever a true investigation. I don’t believe a word the French authorities say to us any more.
Il a dit: “A friend called me at 1.15pm and told me they had seen on the news about how my brother and his family had been caught in a shooting. J'ai dit, ‘It can’t be’. But the friend checked and confirmed. I felt a huge numbness and emptiness. I was in disbelief.”
Within days, local prosecutor Eric Maillaud was insisting the al-Hillis were the target and that Mollier’s death was a red herring.
The police failed to close off the crime scene until after 48 hours of searching, meaning evidence was contaminated.
Zaid said: “It was a living nightmare. I could not believe Maillaud, within hours, was making such concluding statements. He couldn’t have known anything, it was too early. "
Zaid’s ordeal got worse when he was arrested in July 2013 on suspicion of conspiracy to murder, two weeks after French magistrates had asked him to France to be questioned.
They had wanted to probe him over a dispute he and his brother had a year before the killings, about the sale of their late dad’s £800,000 home.
Zaid said: “They took my computer, documents, went into my office, took my phone. They went into my friend’s flat, smashed down his door, took his documents, his computer. They were making it up as they went along.”
All charges were later dropped.
It was a living nightmare. I could not believe Maillaud, within hours, was making such concluding statements. He couldn’t have known anything, it was too early.
Zaid now believes the French investigation may be moved to a new cold-case unit outside Paris.
Reports in France’s Le Parisien newspaper last month suggested Mr Martin is still seen as a suspect.
But Zaid is not convinced.
Il dit: “Why would he do it? it’s a continuation of the cover-up. It feels a bit like, ‘Blame it on this guy, he’s a foreigner.’ This is something to do with Mollier. He was the local. Why have the local police not probed that line harder.”
French police last year held a reconstruction of the final moments of the al-Hillis, who had been travelling in the family’s BMW.
entre-temps, in a heart-warming development, Zaid also tells how his nieces Zainab, à présent 17, and Zeena, 14, sont, despite their terrible ordeal, now living “happy, normal lives and enjoying school”.
Zainab has been helping British police in giving a vivid account of what she can remember, and has told them how she remembers being held by “a white arm” which was that of the attacker.
Zaid tells how both teenagers, now living with a family relative but talking to him regularly, are “in a good situation”.
Il dit: “They’re fine. They have a normal life, they’re happy with their school and their friends.”
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It is the hope that one day the family can finally have closure, and a criminal conviction, that drives Zaid on.
Il dit: “Something like this doesn’t leave you. Vindication gives you strength. I hope we get that one day.”