Emirati sisters tell court of night of horror at hammer attack in London hotel
LONDON // Emirati sisters Khuloud and Fatima Al Najjar have told a court of their horror when they woke to find a hammer-wielding burglar rifling through their goods in a London hotel room this year.
The two were asleep along with their sister Ohoud, 34, and their children in the early hours of April 6 when Philip Spence, 32, broke in.
Khuloud, 36, said she woke in darkness to see Spence going through valuables on a table.
Her daughters, aged 7 and 11, were also sleeping in the room.
“I didn’t leave the room,” Khuloud told jurors on the opening day of Spence’s trial. “He was standing between the two rooms. I could see him in the mirror.”
Spence walked to her bed and yelled: “Give me the f------ money”, then repeatedly hit her to the head with his claw hammer.
Khuloud said it felt like she was hit “more than 30” times and raised her arms above her head “trying to protect my eye”.
Fatima, 31, said she woke up to hear her sister screaming in the bed next to her.
“I just saw him with his hand up high. I didn’t know what it was he was hitting her with,” she said.
“I saw a man just attacking my sister. I just got out of my bed and went to her, trying to stop him. I was saying, ‘What’s happening? What is this?’
“He just started attacking me. He started attacking this side [her left] but I was always moving so he was hitting me everywhere.”
She said it felt like “someone is under the water and they are sinking. That is the way I felt”.
Fatima, who had a plaster over her nose, burst into tears while leaving the witness box after seeing Spence in the Southwark crown court.
Ohoud suffered the worst injuries and is unable to appear in court.
“Is she able to speak to you?” ask-ed prosecutor Simon Mayo, QC.
“No,” replied Khuloud.
The attack left Ohoud with several skull fractures and brain haemorrhaging, and exposed part of her brain.
Her left eye could not be saved, and she had broken teeth on arrival at St Mary’s Hospital, in Paddington, west London.
“Her life was saved only through the skill of the surgeons, doctors and nurses who treated her,” Mr Mayo said. “Her functioning remains significantly impaired and she is not expected ever to make a full recovery.”
Fatima continues to suffer severe symptoms of vertigo and dizziness after her skull was fractured and her carotid artery was torn, the court heard. The sisters all are from Sharjah.
Spence, of Alperton in north-west London, has admitted to three counts of causing grievous bodily harm with intent and one of aggravated burglary, but denies three counts of attempted murder and one of conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary.
Mr Mayo told jurors that Spence intended to murder the sisters when he entered their bedroom.
“The prosecution say that is a powerfully built man such as Philip Spence takes a claw hammer and smashes it into the skull of a defenceless woman, he must inevitably recognise the obvious risk that his victim may die,” he said.
“And if that attack involves not just a single blow but repeated blows to the head of not just one woman, but to three separate women, we say the inference that the attacker’s intention was to kill is simply irresistible.
“You will want to consider, too, the terrible injuries that he inflicted on these women.
‘The shocking truth, ladies and gentleman, is that Philip Spence’s intention was not simply to cause those ladies serious harm but to take their lives – to ensure that he would never be able to be identified as their attacker.’
Mr Mayo said police were shocked by the scene at the room in the Cumberland Hotel, in central London.
“The scene that met the eyes of police and emergency services as they arrived at the scene in the aftermath of the attack was, in the words of one of those attending, horrific.
“The women suffered terrible injuries. One of them even lost part of her brain.”
On the night of the crime, Spence boasted to Emma Moss, co-defendant James Moss’s sister, that he had £50,000 (almost Dh295,000) worth of telephones, iPads, jewellery, credit cards, bags and perfumes.
“She has known Philip Spence since she was 10 and was aware of his criminality and drug use, including the fact that he targeted hotels,” Mr Mayo said.
“She also told police that Spence ‘always has a hammer with him’. He stated that he got them [the items] from a hotel room. He appeared at that stage, says Emma Moss, to be under the influence of drugs.”
Spence was arrested on April 10 at his sister Wendy Aloy’s address in Holloway, north London.
He initially denied the savage attacks but confessed in the face of “overwhelming evidence”.
At Islington police station he boasted that he had licked the hammer to clean off the blood from the women’s skulls.
“There ain’t no blood on the hammer. I licked it all off, it went down my mouth,” he told officers in a barrage of unsolicited comments.
Items including a Gucci handbag, diamond earrings and sunglasses were later found at James Moss’ cellar in a cardboard box.
Four phones – two BlackBerrys, a Samsung and an iPhone – were also found hidden in a bag, along with three iPads, one with James Moss’ right middle fingerprint on it.
Spence confessed to carrying out the attack after initially blaming co-defendant Neofitos “Thomas” Efremi.
Efremi, 57, who uses a crutch to walk, was alleged to have provided the hammer but did not carry out the brutal attack.
His DNA was found on the handle of the hammer after it was recovered at the hotel, jurors heard.
The pair had agreed to steal from the bedrooms and divide the spoils, prosecutors said.
“It is only when faced with a body of overwhelming evidence that Spence has recently admitted the truth that it was he who carried out the attack on those women,” said Mr Mayo.
“Having left those women for dead, lying in bed, Spence collected a suitcase full of valuables and left the rooms where the women lay.”
Spence then called Efremi on a mobile phone he had stolen from the room.
CCTV footage from the bus he used to flee the scene shows him rummaging through a suitcase inspecting the stolen items.
“Bearing in mind that less than an hour before Philip Spence had carried out a vicious and sustained attack with a hammer on three defenceless women, it is perhaps telling that his concern when travelling on that bus appears to be with the proceeds of his awful crime, rather than the plight of his unfortunate victims,” said Mr Mayo.
“That the two men were working together closely is clear from the evidence the prosecution managed to assemble.
“Within minutes of Spence’s arrival at Efremi’s home, Efremi went out in possession of bank cards stolen from one of the victims to withdraw cash from cashpoints before the cards were blocked by the bank.
“In the course of just one hour, Thomas Efremi withdrew £5,000 in cash using the stolen cards.”
Two jackets worn by Spence were later found at Efremi’s home and had traces of blood from two of the victims, prosecutors said.
Efremi, of Islington in north London, has admitted to making 10 withdrawals totalling £5,000 using stolen bank cards but he denies conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary.
James Moss, 33, of Stroud Green in north London, had admitted handling stolen goods, including mobile phones, handbags and jewellery. He has been released on bail and will be sentenced later.
The trial continues tomorrow and is expected to last three and a half weeks.
Updated: October 7, 2014 04:00 AM