Sisters injured in hammer attack suing hotel over ‘poor security'

08 May 2019 by
Sisters injured in hammer attack suing hotel over ‘poor security'

Three sisters who suffered devastating injuries when a thief attacked them with a hammer while they stayed at the Cumberland hotel in London are suing the owners over its alleged "haphazard" security.

Ohoud, Khaloud and Fatima Al-Najjar, from Abu Dhabi in the UAE, were staying in adjoining rooms at the four-star hotel in Marble Arch in April 2014 when "hotel creeper" Philip Spence bludgeoned them with a claw hammer.

Spence, who was convicted of three counts of attempted murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, walked into the hotel off the street and was able to reach the seventh floor, where he entered the Al-Najjars' room through its open door, the High Court heard on Tuesday.

All three sisters were left with lasting injuries: Ohoud was left with five per cent brain capacity and will require care for the rest of her life, Khaloud has had 20 operations to rebuild her head and face, and Fatima cannot taste or smell and has problems with her memory.

On the first day of a two-week trial in London, the family's barrister Susan Rodway QC said the hotel's security was "haphazard and poorly managed" which meant that "in effect, those bedroom doors were open onto the street below".

Rodway told the court that security "failures" "led directly to Spence's decision to target the hotel", where he knew he could make "an easy buck from the rich pickings there".

She told the court that Spence - who was initially jailed for a minimum of 18 years, later increased to 27 years by appeal judges - claimed at his criminal trial that he was a "regular intruder" at the hotel and had even been able to "sleep in maids' cupboards" on occasion.

Rodway argued that the hotel's CCTV system, which did not cover the guests' corridors, was "purely reactive", saying: "The CCTV was clearly only there to enable review should an incident occur, but not to enable any anticipation or prevention of an incident."

She said it was "well-known" to the hotel that it was "common for Middle Eastern guests to leave doors on the latch" to enable family members to go between rooms.

She added that warning guests about the possible risk of leaving doors open "would have been something that would undoubtedly have prevented this [incident], but that was not done".

The hotel's owner, GLH Hotels, denies liability for the attack, arguing it "did not create the danger" posed by Spence, and that by leaving their door open "the claimants voluntarily assumed the obvious risk of allowing anyone to enter the room while they were asleep inside".

Neil Block QC, for the hotel, said in written submissions: "The risk of non-guests seeking to enter guest floors was minimal and had not been a significant problem.

"In any event, each guest room was fitted with a heavy duty fire door with efficient self-closers and automatic locks, deadlocks, security chains and spy-glasses. The rooms were designed so that guests could not leave them open accidentally."

Block said that, after the incident, "the police subsequently tested a closed bedroom door and found it impossible to gain access with a hammer similar to that used by Mr Spence".

He added that there being "no system for live monitoring" all of the 130 CCTV cameras at the hotel "was, and indeed remains, the norm for similar hotels".

He concluded: "But for the deliberate interference with the door's locking mechanism, the attack would not have occurred."

In a statement, a spokeswoman for GLH Hotels said: "The Al-Najjar sisters have our deepest sympathy for the horrific injuries they received at the hands of Philip Spence whilst staying at our hotel in 2014.

"His actions were savage and shocking, and he is rightfully now serving a 27-year prison sentence for his terrible crime.

"However, we cannot accept responsibility for his attack, which is why we are contesting the Al-Najjar family's claim in this trial."

The Cumberland relaunched as the Hard Rock Hotel London last month following refurbishment, taking it from 1,000 bedrooms to 900. GLH Hotels owns and operates 17 hotels in London across its Guoman, Amba, Thistle, Hard Rock and Thistle Express brands.

Sisters who suffered hammer attack at Cumberland hotel to sue>>

Hard Rock Hotel London to launch in April >>

Grosvenor hotel to relaunch as Amba Victoria >>

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