Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 19 October 2019

Najjar sisters have been failed by British justice

It is incredible that their suffering has not been compensated in the courts

Cumberland Hotel Hammer Attack Court Case. Ohoud al Najjar and her sisters, Fatima and Khulood suffered devastating injuries when they were attacked by Philip Spence.
Cumberland Hotel Hammer Attack Court Case. Ohoud al Najjar and her sisters, Fatima and Khulood suffered devastating injuries when they were attacked by Philip Spence.

It is an axiom of the common law that for justice to be done, it must be seen to be done.

In the case of the Al Najjar sisters, the absence of justice, properly delivered, is palpable.

To recap: the three sisters, Fatima, Khulood and Ohoud, were staying in a central London hotel when a 33-year old thief entered the property unchallenged.

Philip Spence accessed the lift and went to the floor where the sisters and children were sleeping. In a brutal frenzy, Spence used a claw hammer to inflict life-changing injuries on the women and was sentenced to 27 years in prison in criminal courts in 2015.

The legal principle of duty of care is well-established in English law. The sisters then sued the hotel for damages in a High Court case that concluded last month. Lawyers argued that the owners and management had failed to provide secure accommodation to the family visiting the British capital from the UAE.

Incredibly, the judge, Mr Justice Dingemans, a lawyer who made his name at the long-running Hutton Inquiry into the Iraq war, dismissed their compensation claim, despite hearing of serial failures to safeguard guests at the establishment.

The lobby of what is now rebranded the Hard Rock Hotel was wide open when Spence walked in and he faced no real impediment in accessing the guest floors. There were no barriers to Spence using the lifts and the management had not installed an effective, constantly monitored CCTV system. The court heard the hotel had no adequate safety procedures or system of regular procedural reviews.

The judge concluded that while the attack was indeed foreseeable, its likelihood was low. The sisters were understandably devastated. Ohoud has been left with just five per cent brain capacity and needs round-the-clock care. The younger members of the family have had to seek treatment for post-traumatic shock.

People traditionally looked to British justice because of its reputation for righting wrongs. Today questions are raised about that very reputation. The facts in the case are clear. The suffering of the victims is immense and ongoing.

The legal team for the family are now exploring an appeal. The attack was perpetrated in 2014 and the family have had not recompense for their suffering. Acting in accordance to respecting sovereign law and out of respect, the UAE government has not sought to intervene in this matter, expecting to see the system operate as it should.

That the failure to provide support and compensation has dragged on so long is a denial of justice in itself. There can be no doubt that the English legal system must find a way to right itself.

Any other legal system would find itself exposed to the severest criticism and condemnation if the events were repeated elsewhere. If the victims were British and the hotel located in the region, the British media would be merciless in pillorying the lack of remedy. And yet, with a foreign family coming to visit the UK, little recourse has been delivered and serious questions have been raised about the legal system.

Justice must been done. And soon.

Updated: July 6, 2019 12:20 PM