Page last updated at 17:42 GMT, Thursday, 28 August 2008 18:42 UK

What is known about missing man?

By Andy McFarlane
BBC News

Christopher, Jill and Kirstie Foster
Christopher Foster appeared to be a happy family man
As police prepare to enter the arson-hit Shropshire home of missing businessman Christopher Foster, his wife Jill and daughter Kirstie, more details are emerging of a man described by a friend as "happy go lucky" but by a judge as lacking the "basic instincts of commercial morality."

Christopher Foster was living the millionaire lifestyle from his 15-acre estate.

The 50-year-old built the dream at Osbaston House, the 1.2m luxury country home in Shropshire he shared with wife Jill, 48, and 15-year-old daughter Kirstie.

His Telford-based company Ulva Limited had developed into a leading supplier of thermal insulation to oil and gas producers.

To the outside world the signs of their success seemed obvious.

Lavish lifestyle

Mrs Foster's 4x4 was adorned with a JILL40 personalised plate, while her husband has often been seen driving a Ferrari, Porsches and an Aston Martin.

The couple sent Kirstie to the independent Ellesmere College, in north Shropshire.

They created an artificial lake in their grounds, which were home to the horses, dogs, ducks and chickens. Meanwhile, Mr Foster took up country pursuits, such as shooting and fishing.

Despite his lavish lifestyle, friends said Mr Foster was a down-to-earth character.

Graham Evans
Graham Evans met Christopher Foster regularly to go shooting

"If you sat in the pub with him, you wouldn't know he was worth the money he was," said Graham Evans, chairman of Shropshire Clay Pigeon Shooting Association.

Mr Evans said his friend was a weekly regular at the club until 10 to 12 months ago.

"I found him to be a very nice, open, friendly, happy-go-lucky chap.

"He didn't throw it in your face but he was a successful businessman. He just fitted in with everybody whether you were a prince or a pauper."

But in reality, all was not well in Mr Foster's life.

In 2006, two men were cleared of blackmailing him at Shrewsbury Crown Court.

And court papers show his business was in trouble to such an extent that by August last year, Ulva was put in the hands of administrators. It was facing debts of around 450,000 and an unpaid tax bill of 835,000.

Six weeks later, the company went into liquidation.

The administrators were attempting to negotiate with someone, Mr Foster, whom they knew to be bereft of the basic instincts of commercial morality
Lord Justice Rimer

A judge later found Mr Foster had spent the previous months stripping Ulva of its assets and transferring them to a new firm he had set up called Ulva International.

In May Lord Justice Rimer, in the Court of Appeal, said Mr Foster had transferred all Ulva's raw materials, goods, plant, equipment, customers, employees and intellectual property to his new company.

Mr Foster had also transferred Ulva's trademark for 10 and owed the firm at least 350,000, the judge said.

The judge described Mr Foster as "not to be trusted".

"The administrators were attempting to negotiate with someone, Mr Foster, whom they knew to be bereft of the basic instincts of commercial morality," he said.

Lord Justice Rimer ruled that Mr Foster and the administrators were jointly liable for the legal costs of DRC, one of Ulva's suppliers which was owed almost 1m and had wanted to buy the firm. The ruling in May followed a series of court cases.

Seemed happy

Ulva remains in liquidation.

Despite his problems, neighbours say Mr Foster still appeared happy.

Builder Gordon Richards said: "When I saw Chris a few days ago, he seemed happy, but he said he was feeling the pinch at work because of the credit crunch."

As recently as Monday, Mr Foster and his family were enjoying a party at a friend's house.

But by the following morning, fire was engulfing their mansion. Their beloved horses were dead and their dogs were missing.

Today, all that remains of Mr Foster's dream of life in the country is his charred home.

Meanwhile, his family and friends wait anxiously for news.

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