x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Hunt for clues in murder mansion

A businessman may have killed his wife, daughter and then himself after losing millions in the oil industry.

An undated photo released by police of Christopher Foster, his wife Jill and their 15-year-old daughter Kirstie. Police continue to investigate what happened at the family home where the three died.
An undated photo released by police of Christopher Foster, his wife Jill and their 15-year-old daughter Kirstie. Police continue to investigate what happened at the family home where the three died.

LONDON // Detectives were yesterday beginning to piece together the tragic story of a businessman who may have killed his wife, daughter and then himself after losing millions in the oil industry. The slowly unfolding tale behind the deaths of Christopher Foster and his family has both engrossed and appalled Britain since the £1.2 million (Dh7.9m) country mansion where they lived in Shropshire, close to England's border with Wales, was discovered ablaze in the early hours of Tuesday last week. By yesterday, the third of three bodies - that of Foster's 15-year-old daughter, Kirstie - had finally been retrieved from the charred ruins of the home and was undergoing a postmortem.

It had already been established that the first body found at the weekend was that of Foster's wife, Jill, 49. She died in the couple's bedroom after being shot in the back of the head with a .22 rifle. Foster's body and the weapon were found close by. Police yesterday refused to comment on reports that footage from the mansion's CCTV system showed Foster running from the stable block to the house carrying a rifle. The stables were also destroyed by fire after Kirstie's three horses had been shot dead. Detectives believe that Kirstie and her mother were already dead by that time along with the family's four dogs. They had also been shot. Terence Baines, a former director of Foster's company, Ulva Ltd, which supplied insulating material to the oil industry before collapsing with debts of more than £1.8m, said the millionaire may have "flipped because the pressure of it was too much for him".

As a result of his business and personal tax debts, Foster was on the verge of losing the home he had bought four years ago and lavished money on. The property had been renovated and a lake built in the grounds. It appears it was only a matter of time before creditors would force the sale of Osbaston House, just outside the village of Maesbrook, the family's luxury cars and virtually everything else the 50-year-old, one-time millionaire had spent a lifetime acquiring. However, only a few hours before fire gutted Osbaston House, Foster had shown little sign of the stress he may have been under. He, his wife and daughter had been at a barbecue on the Monday evening at a neighbour's home. "By all accounts, all of them seemed relaxed and happy at the barbecue," said a police source yesterday. "They talked about Kirstie returning to her private school and, though Mr Foster moaned a bit about the economic situation, there was absolutely nothing to indicate that he was under any great stress." But there had been considerable pressure in Foster's life in recent years. In 2006, two men were accused of blackmailing him but cleared after a trial at Shrewsbury Crown Court. A year ago Ulva was put in the hands of administrators and later went into liquidation. At a subsequent court case, Foster was accused of stripping the firm of its assets and transferring them to a new company he had set up, called Ulva International. In May, at a hearing in the Court of Appeal in London, Lord Justice Rimer described Foster as a man "not to be trusted". He said,"The administrators were attempting to negotiate with someone - Mr Foster - whom they knew to be bereft of the basic instincts of commercial morality." Around Maesbrook, however, Foster was well liked. He took up country sports, including fishing and hunting, was a regular at a local pub and was frequently seen driving along country lanes in a Ferrari, an Aston Martin or one of two Porsches. "Certainly, from all accounts, Mr Foster seemed a dedicated husband and a devoted father," the police source said. Forensic scientists have yet to formally identify the charred, adult male body found in the ruins of Osbaston House. "Obviously, we will want to know if there drugs or excessive alcohol in the body," the police source said. What is known is that, when the family returned from the barbecue, Kirstie was online, chatting to pals, until about 1am on Tuesday. The blackened remains of her computer have been recovered and were being examined by forensic scientists yesterday. At about 3am, fires started, first in the stables and then the house. Neighbours alerted the fire brigade at about 4am when the petrol tank in one of the family cars exploded. By the time firemen arrived, the mansion and the stable block were burning fiercely. The eventual damage was so extensive that police were unable to enter the ruins until Friday. Det Supt Jon Groves, who is leading the investigation, said: "Although this is now being treated as a murder, we are keeping an open mind as to the circumstances leading up to the incident." He said it could take weeks before the true circumstances were established. "It is hard to grasp what has happened," said the Rev David Austerberry, the vicar at St John's Church in Maesbrook. "It will be some time before everything is revealed and clear. When we know what has happened perhaps there may be something more specific we can do. But at the moment all we can do is offer our prayers." dsapsted@thenational.ae