A woman left for dead by a hammer attacker in her hotel room has told how she is still haunted by the footsteps of the man who bludgeoned her family.
Khuloud Al-Najjar, then aged 37, was one of three sisters who were repeatedly struck with a hammer by hotel creeper Philip Spence at the luxury Cumberland Hotel in London five years ago.
She has undergone 20 operations to rebuild her battered head and face after the ferocious attack at the 4-star hotel near Marble Arch – which has recently rebranded as the Hard Rock Hotel London – whilst her whole family’s lives have been devastated by the avoidable attack.
Sister Fatima had to have her nose rebuilt, cannot taste or smell and struggles to remember things while their other sister Ohoud was left with just five percent brain capacity, can no longer speak and has lost one eye.
The family released the first pictures of Ohoud, hours before and since the brutal attack, to illustrate the lasting damage Spence caused.
Reliving the horrific moment her life was changed forever Khaloud said: “I was asleep but awoke when I heard footsteps. I opened my eyes to see somebody at the table looking through our stuff. I started to call out to my sister in the connecting room and the man came and put his face really close to mine, he was literally in front of my nose.
“He said ‘give me the f*****g money’ and I felt a really hot liquid on my neck. I didn’t feel any pain at all, maybe it was the shock as he had hit me over the head with a hammer. The next thing I knew everybody was screaming and I remember my brother shouting at me that I was dying. My daughter Nora just kept crying ‘mama, mama, mama’.
“I still hear footsteps that aren’t there to this day. I end up opening the door to our room as I think somebody is out there. I am haunted by his steps moments before he bludgeoned us all.”
The family from Abu Dhabi were on holiday in London in April 2014 when Spence, who had a history of sneaking into hotels to steal, got into their room. He was able to walk into the hotel as there was no security in the lobby and get up to the seventh floor where the family were staying in adjoining rooms. They had left the door on the latch as they believed the hotel would be safe.
They are taking legal action against the owners of the Cumberland Hotel, now Hard Rock Hotel London, owned and operated by GLH Hotels, who face a civil trial at the Royal Courts of Justice in May.
Solicitors from Hodge Jones & Allen claim the hotel was in flagrant breach of its duty of care and failed to provide a reasonable level of security for its resident guests. The list of failures includes: a failure to institute up-to-date security practices and management; a failure to install a card reader to restrict access to the guest corridors; a failure to provide an effective security guard at the entrance to the hotel at night; a failure to carry out security patrols; and a failure to install effective CCTV and to monitor it.
Fatima said: “Who could imagine that somebody would come to the seventh floor in the middle of the night and enter our room? In our culture a hotel is a safe place. But here there was no security. What kind of security allows somebody to enter the hotel and get into the guest area?
“I haven’t been able to sleep for more than one hour at a time since the attack. I am afraid to go to sleep as I am scared that something will happen to me and I won’t wake up. It is impossible to rest and it is a living nightmare.”
Ohoud who was 35, was struck with such force that her left side of her face was destroyed, her facial bone split in half, brain matter protruded from a hole in her skull and spread over her face, her left eye socket was obliterated and her teeth smashed. The attacks were carried out in front of Khaloud’s three children who at the time were only 11, 9 and 7 years of age.
Khaloud added: “For my sister Ohoud her life ended on that night. She is breathing but she has no quality of life. She can’t express herself whether she is happy, sad, hungry or in pain. She is like a child but worse as even a child would be able to express themselves through crying. On that night that man mashed her brain and ended her life.
“I can’t understand how a person can smash somebody over the head with a hammer when they are sleeping. They did tests on him and he wasn’t crazy, he was just a bad person. I sometimes think why am I still alive?”
Fatima added: “Everything changed for the worse that night. We now have a miserable life and are a nightmare. We lost part of our family, we lost our health and we feel like we have lost everything for no reason and for something that could have been avoided if they had security. We have been in physical and mental pain ever since the attack. I look in the mirror and I’m not the person I was then. Our lives are spent in hospitals having surgery and trying out new medicines. Our lives stopped on that night five years ago. I no longer enjoy anything and struggle to remember things that have just happened.”
Spence was jailed for life for the shocking attack and ordered to serve a minimum term of 27 years.
Khaloud added: “Five years on and we are still fighting for justice. We want the hotel to accept responsibility. We almost died and effectively lost our sister that night yet still the hotel is denying liability. They have not paid for any rehabilitation or treatment which five years on is still ongoing yet have spent millions on rebranding as the Hard Rock London Hotel.
“My children were traumatised by what they saw. Their lives have been affected greatly as their mum hasn’t been around for them and couldn’t do the things I wanted to with them. I was in a wheelchair for 17 months and was paralysed down my left side for that time from the brain injury. I lost seeing part of their childhood and haven’t had a chance to be a real mum for five years. I used to do everything for them but I haven’t been able to since the attack. They lost their innocence that night and have had to grow up too fast.
“They still have nightmares and are always worried that we are going to be hurt by another bad man. They are scared to go anywhere and wanted to put cameras all over our house in case somebody came to kill us. My son said to me, on that night we left the door to our hotel room open, but the price for that was the door to our lives closing. This is our reality now.”
Riffat Yaqub, Partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, who is representing the family, said: “This brutal and mindless attack while a family slept in the privacy of their hotel room left three sisters with horrific and irreversible life-c-hanging injuries. On the seventh floor of a luxury London hotel they had every right to think that they would be safe. But Spence was able to walk in unhindered to carry out his crimes. Five years on and the sisters are still fighting for justice and to get the apology from the hotel owners we feel they deserve.”