I'm sure Bob will reply himself, but until he does.
What that Ubuntu Live CD allows is for the user, you, to see if it can find and explore the hard disk on the laptop. It has it's own file manager, (what windows users call Windows Explorer), and it has a knack of being able to read file names of files even though Windows is a foreign Operating System to it.
Finding the file manager in a Linux distro is a bit daunting and I can't give advice how to find it as I have only used Ubuntu a couple of times myself, but once you have found the file manager, it should be reasonably easy to navigate to the laptop's hard drive and see what files are there.
If Ubuntu can do that, then you have the option of 'copying' those files to some external source, eg a memory stick, or USB hard drive, etc.
If Ubuntu's file manager cannot find the hard drives, then it seems to me there could be two reasons.
1] The obvious, the hard drive is shot, or
2] A possibility, Ubuntu does not recognise hard disks set up in RAID. I thought Ubuntu did recognise RAID setups, but I am not 100%. Also I cannot recall ever seeing a laptop that uses Raid.
RAID is: 2 or more hard disks working together as one; eg RAID 0, 2 hdds where the data is read to each disk in turn, so each disk only has part of thedata, both both act as one disk. Another eg, RAID 1, 2 hdds where data is duplicated across both disks. This is like an instant backup where if one disk fails, the other takes over.
I would guess that if Ubuntu is loaded but its file manager does not find the hdd, then that means the hard drive has failed.
Hope that helps, and I hope I've got that accurate.
Good luck to Wales a week on Saturday. Er, I'm an England supporter myself though. Sorry,