LONDON // The shocking attack on three Emirati women in London’s Cumberland Hotel on Sunday is hard to comprehend and, according to the Metropolitan Police detective superintendent Carl Mehta, “exceptionally unusual and rare”.
It is, nevertheless, inevitable that some Gulf visitors to London will be feeling vulnerable and it is a reminder that in cities beyond the safety of the UAE, unfamiliar dangers may lurk, with crime at the top of the list.
The primary motive of the attack, which has resulted in the arrest of four men and a woman – all British, was on Friday revealed to be theft and this is a fact that could trouble wealthy Emiratis on shopping trips to the UK capital.
UAE national Abdullah Al Mansouri, who is currently staying at the Four Seasons in London, said that although he feels safe, he has increased his vigilance, particularly when considering the care of his younger sisters, with whom he is travelling.
“When it comes to them, I’m keeping in mind that they’re around, and usually they would go out to the park when it’s sunny, but now most probably they’ll go with someone else, not just on their own. So to some extent, it is affecting our stay here,” he said.
Thabet Al Qaissieh has been studying in London for nearly a year and has been a regular visitor all his life. He feels little difference in the mood.
“I can’t say I’ve seen anything first-hand, apart from messages of caution from people on Twitter or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but over here I honestly don’t feel any different,” he said.
“Obviously it’s close to home; it could have been my sister, or cousins, and, considering how small the UAE population is, you tend to know someone who knows someone. But London, being an important centre of finance and tourism, will always be relatively safe.”
Few countries in the world are as safe from crime as the UAE and it is important to pay attention to the local mood, to avoid standing out, Mr Al Qaissieh advises, adding that carrying the bare minimum of cash or valuables is a good idea.
In the UK, for example, where even in the upmarket areas of Sloane Street or Bond Street the prevailing style of dress tends to be low-key, visitors wearing ostentatious jewellery and carrying large shopping bags or designer handbags may draw unwelcome attention.
Mayfair and Knightsbridge are among the favourite destinations for visitors from the Gulf, and their streets and gardens feel extremely safe. According to the Metropolitan Police, there is no evidence that Arabs are disproportionately targeted by criminals.
“For me, I’m a fan of East London, and I know it’s a bit riskier,” said Mr Al Mansouri.
“But I think, as a tourist, wherever you are, you always have that doubt of keeping your bags tight, and keeping your kids around you, and being aware of what is going on.”
Visit London, the official tourism body, is keen to emphasise the city’s safety, in spite of the attack.
“Incidents of this nature are extremely rare and our thoughts are with those affected and their families,” said Julie Chappell, director of visitlondon.com at London & Partners.
“London is proud to be one of the safest big cities in the world.”
Of course, the streets are only one aspect of travel, as the attack at the Cumberland Hotel has shown. Once cocooned in a hotel, it is natural to feel safe, of course, but basic precautions such as locking external doors and stowing valuables in the safe should be taken whoever you are and wherever you are staying.
DSI Carl Mehta’s statement noted that “hotel room security was not breached and the door to the family’s room was unlocked at the time of the incident”. This is believed to be because several members of the family were staying on the same floor.
“The problem, in my view, what causes me to be somewhat worried, is that it happened in a four-star hotel, and someone walked in that late to a hotel with a hammer, unquestioned. Was the person a guest and, if not, then who?” asked Mr Al Qaissieh.
“The hotel has 1,000 rooms – why did he pick out that specific room? Some friends said maybe they were a bit flashy with their clothing or shopping, but I said consider that the hotel has many guests from the Gulf. Why these women?”
And even with the security measures that some hotels take – such as requiring a key card to use the lift (something that does not occur at the Cumberland) – it can be possible for intruders to find their way into hotels.
The National contacted a number of five-star establishments popular with visitors from the Gulf and only Jumeirah, whose properties include Jumeirah Carlton Tower, Grosvenor House Apartments and Jumeriah Lowndes Hotel, was willing to discuss security measures.
A spokesman from the company said: “It is our policy not to provide details about specific measures taken but I can tell you that the welfare and safety of our guests is paramount. We have extensive safety and security measures in place to provide maximum comfort and safety for our guests.”
Mr Al Mansouri has noticed an increase in security at the Four Seasons, too.
“The hotel has pushed an initiative of trying to keep everything safe, where they have security at the door, and you can’t access a floor without your key card, so they are making it feel safer,” he says. “And we appreciate that.”
On Friday Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, an advisor to the President, accompanied by UAE Embassy staff, visited the Emirati women at Cromwell Hospital, where he was briefed by the medical team on their conditions. He wished them all a speedy recovery and expressed his thanks to the medical team for their efforts.