'All for nothing’: Emirati sisters lose London hotel attack court case

Legal team are exploring options for appeal after judge rules against plea for damages

Ohoud Al Najjar lost her left eye in the attack and was also left severely brain damaged. The Al Najjar family
Ohoud Al Najjar lost her left eye in the attack and was also left severely brain damaged. The Al Najjar family

Three Emirati sisters who were seriously injured in a hammer attack at a London hotel have lost their fight for compensation.

Justice Dingemans said on Friday the Cumberland hotel, owned by Malaysian company GLH Hotels, was not liable for the attack as it had taken reasonable care to protect guests from criminal acts of third parties.

Fatima, Khulood and Ohoud Al Najjar were attacked by Philip Spence, then 33, who had entered their hotel room on the seventh floor of the Cumberland Hotel in order to steal valuables on April 6, 2014.

The sisters’ legal team had argued at the High Court that the building’s security was inadequate allowing Spence to enter the hotel on the ground floor and make his way directly to a lift unchallenged by security.

The court heard Spence had a history of “creeping” into hotels to steal, said the sisters’ lawyer Susan Rodway during the High Court hearing in London. His attack left the sisters with life-changing injuries. Ohoud Al Najjar, was left with just 5 per cent brain capacity, stripping her of the ability to speak or feel pain and her sisters required multiple surgeries.

Khulood Al Najjar’s daughter Noura, who was 11 at the time and witnessed the attack, needs psychological treatment, the family said.

In his written judgment, Justice Dingemans said that although the attack was foreseeable by the hotel, the likelihood of such a violent attack occurring was “very low”.

In a statement, Khulood and Fatima Al Najjar said the verdict was a “travesty” and “justice has not been done”.

“Reliving the horrors of that terrifying night where we almost lost our lives has been extremely traumatic for us to endure and we are devastated that it has all been for nothing,” the sisters said.

“We lost our sister and our lives were changed forever when we were attacked by Spence in the privacy of our own room. Yet still the owners of the Hard Rock have managed to argue successfully that they were not responsible for what happened to us.” Since the attack, the Cumberland hotel has been rebranded as the Hard Rock hotel.

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

During the two-week hearing, the hotel argued sisters Sheikha Al Muhairi and Ohoud Al Najjar were guilty of contributory negligence because Sheikha had left the door on the latch at Ohoud’s request when she could not find the keycard for the room, allowing Spence to enter unimpeded.

“When we travel, to us, it is normal to leave the door open because we believe we are in a secure place,” Ms Al Muhairi told the court during the hearing.

Justice Dingemans said he accepted that the suite of measures recommended by the claimants’ security expert Frank Davis including continuous monitoring of CCTV, notices to tell guests not to prop doors open and more patrols by security “might" have prevented the attack, but he was “unable to say that it was more likely than not that they would have prevented [it]”.

“We believe today’s judgment is the correct outcome,” GLH Hotels said in a statement.

“Regardless, the Najjar family’s experience was deeply shocking and wholly unprecedented and we reiterate our heartfelt concern for their well-being as they continue to receive all necessary support.”

The sisters’ legal team said it was considering an appeal against the judgment.

“Our clients almost died in their hotel room after a dangerous criminal was able to walk into the hotel unhindered,” said Riffat Yaqub, the family’s solicitor.

“It beggars belief that such a massive hotel could have had such pitiful security that allowed this to happen to these innocent women. We are deeply disappointed by today’s judgment and will be looking at whether there are any grounds for appeal.”

Updated: June 22, 2019 04:08 PM

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