Emirati sisters lose London hotel hammer attack appeal

Fatima, Khulood and Ohoud Al Najjar were seeking compensation after being attacked in a London hotel room by a burglar in 2014

Three Emirati sisters who suffered horrific injuries when they were bludgeoned with a claw hammer as they slept in a London hotel room have lost their appeal for compensation.

Fatima, Khulood and Ohoud Al Najjar, from Abu Dhabi, were attacked in the Cumberland Hotel, on Oxford Street, in April 2014 by Philip Spence, then 33.

Spence was convicted of three counts of attempted murder and jailed for life for the attack.

On Friday, judges sitting at London's High Court rejected their appeal against that ruling.

The family had been seeking compensation for the attack, which left  Ohoud with life-changing brain injuries, on the grounds that the hotel failed in its duty of care after Spence was not challenged when he entered it.

During the case, evidence of a series of failures to protect guests in the years preceding the attack was presented to the court.

In last year's ruling, the judge said that while it had been “reasonably foreseeable” the likelihood of it occurring was “extremely low” and so the hotel bore no liability.

Last October, the court granted the family permission to appeal against the decision.

In Friday's ruling, Lord Justice McCombe, dismissed their appeal.

"I do not see that his [the judge's] final conclusion that [on the basis of the primary facts found by him] there was not a breach of the duty alleged, can be faulted," he said.

The family had originally cited 30 flaws in security at the hotel and had appealed on the grounds lobby security guard Wasif Zafar had failed to challenge Spence.

CCTV had shown Spence entering the hotel at 1.13am where he passed unchallenged, at one point within about eight metres of the hotel's lobby officer, before taking the lift to the seventh floor.

He then entered their room, which had been deliberately left unlocked to allow another family member to return a hairdryer, and stole thousands of pound of jewellery and cash.

When the sisters awoke he then attacked them all with a hammer.

"The attack on Ohoud caused her catastrophic brain damage, rendering her now incapable of conducting her own affairs," the judge said.

The family's legal team appealed on the grounds it was Mr Zafar's role to "host, greet and smile at all persons entering the hotel" especially after 11pm.

But Lord McCombe has found his duties "could not keep a single security officer in a fixed place in the lobby for the particular purpose of greeting or challenging those entering the hotel at all times".

The judge said Mr Zafar had to attend other areas, including the bar, brasserie and outside smoking area.

"Having reviewed the evidence overall, the judge was clearly entitled to reach the view that the ambit of the duties actually imposed on the lobby officer by the respondent was reasonable. Those duties rendered impossible the absolute duty, alleged on behalf of the appellants, to engage every person entering the hotel at this time.

"Given Mr Zafar's wider duties, beyond the duty of meeting everyone entering the hotel that the appellants alleged, it could not be said that Mr Zafar was in breach of any duty simply for being in the position that he was at the moment that Spence entered the hotel and crossed the lobby. Mr Zafar was where he was, at that moment, in fulfilment of the duty to patrol the lobby, and its surrounding areas, as a whole."

The girls' mother Kedhaya Al Mulla previously told The National the ordeal had been a death sentence for the family.

“Overnight, this man has sentenced us to death. He didn’t just harm my daughters, he destroyed all our lives. It feels like we have been buried alive. This house we are in is our coffin," she said.

The sisters have had dozens of operations to repair the damage to their faces and bodies and spent 10 months in a London hospital.

All three suffer epilepsy and post-traumatic stress.

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