Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 25 August 2019

Lawyer for Emirati sisters tells court London hotel at fault for hammer attack

A lawyer representing three women says the Cumberland had ineffective CCTV and out of date security

A lack of hotel security was a factor in a violent attack that left three Emirati sisters with life-changing injuries, a lawyer told a London court on Tuesday.

On the first day of a civil hearing against the Cumberland Hotel, Susan Rodway said the hammer attack committed against the sleeping women in April 2014 was “very distressing”.

The attack left Fatima, Khulood and Ohoud Al Najjar with permanent injuries.

Ohoud was left with just 5 per cent brain capacity, stripping her of the ability to speak or feel pain.

Children who were also in the room at the time of the attack needed psychological treatment.

Philip Spence, then 33, had a history of "creeping" into hotels to steal.

On the seventh floor of a luxury London hotel they had every right to think that they would be safe

Riffat Yaqub

In the early hours of April 6, 2014, he entered the hotel on the ground floor and made his way directly to a lift unchallenged by security. He scouted out the fifth and sixth floors before entering the sisters’ room on the seventh floor through a door left on the latch, Ms Rodway told the court.

Spence used a claw hammer in the drug-fuelled attack on the sisters before leaving with a bag stuffed with gold, jewellery and technology worth thousands of pounds.

Spence was sentenced to 27 years in prison for the attack, but the Al Najjar family feel justice has not been served.

The sisters are fighting for compensation from the Cumberland, part of Malaysian-owned GLH hotels. The Cumberland denies any responsibility for what it calls an “entirely unpredictable event”.

Fatima Al Najjar, who attended Tuesday's hearing with sister and fellow victim Khulood, said last week: “Who could imagine that somebody would come to the seventh floor in the middle of the night and enter our room?

"In our culture a hotel is a safe place. But here there was no security. What kind of security allows somebody to enter the hotel and get into the guest area?"

Since the attack, the hotel on the corner of Oxford Street and Marble Arch has been rebranded as the Hard Rock Hotel London.

Ms Rodway told the court that a lack of appropriate security measures in the lobby meant “in effect [the claimant’s] bedroom doors were open to the street below”.

The hotel’s lapses, she said, included out-of-date security practices, missed security patrols and a failure to install and monitor effective CCTV in common areas. The defence said the Cumberland had 130 CCTV cameras covering the public areas and lift lobbies, but not the guest corridors in April 2014.

The court was shown different angles of Spence entering the hotel’s lobby and was told that some of the motion-sensor CCTV cameras in operation that night were faulty.

Ms Rodway added that an £85 million (Dh407.3mn) redesign of the hotel in 2004 created the “least secure lobby one could consider”.

The case is being overseen by Mr Justice Dingemans at the Royal Courts of Justice on London’s Strand. As it is a civil case, the judge will rule on the case and no jury is selected.

“On the seventh floor of a luxury London hotel they had every right to think that they would be safe,” said Riffat Yaqub, a partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, who is representing Al Najjar family.

“But Spence was able to walk in unhindered to carry out his crimes. Five years on and the sisters are still fighting for justice and to get the apology from the hotel owners we feel they deserve.”

At the opening of the hearing, GLH released a statement expressing “deepest sympathy” for the family, but did not accept responsibility.

“The sad truth is that this unfortunate incident would not have happened if the Al Najjar family had not left their bedroom doors deliberately propped open. Our lawyers will further argue that Mr Spence’s unwarranted attack was an entirely unpredictable event.”

The hearing will continue on Thursday, when the court will hear testimony from witnesses.

Updated: May 8, 2019 07:51 AM

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