ABU DHABI // The mother of the three Emirati sisters who were attacked by a drug addict with a claw hammer in a London hotel three years ago has spoken for the first time about how the family’s lives were “destroyed overnight”.
Speaking exclusively to The National, Kedhaya Al Mulla recalled the horror of finding out about the incident in which her daughters almost died and which forever changed their lives.
Fatima Al Najjar, 36, Ohoud Al Najjar, 37, and Khulood Al Najjar, 39, along with other family members including children were sleeping in their room at the Cumberland hotel in Marble Arch on April 6, 2014 when serial petty criminal Philip Spence entered to rob them and assaulted them with a hammer.
The list of the sisters’ medical problems and disabilities is long. One has brain damage and is in a wheelchair after six blows to the head, while another has no sense of taste and cannot breath through her nose.
All three suffer epilepsy and post-traumatic stress.
“It is hardest on the mother to see her children suffer in this way,” said Mrs Al Mulla.
“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.”
Once full of laughter and joy, Mrs Al Mulla said her life has become endless sorrow.
“When I hear that someone has died, I secretly envy them and I’m happy for them because they will never see the suffering we are seeing.”
The sisters have had dozens of operations to repair the damage to their faces and bodies.
They stayed in a London hospital for 10 months and have returned several times with more trips to come.
Half of Khulood’s face and skull was smashed, and Fatima’s nose was shattered. Matter from Ohoud’s brain was found on her pillow.
They remember little of the day and the only one who clearly remembers and identified the attacker was Khulood’s eldest daughter, Noora , who was 11 at the time.
She injured her hand trying to stop Spence.
“My children wake up screaming, and me and my sisters can’t sleep without pills,” said Khulood, who was a finance manager.
“Noora still remembers the man who tried to kill her mother. The judge wanted her to be a witness at court, but I refused.”
Her other two children, Fatima, who was 7, and Saeed, 9, were also traumatised.
The sisters’ half brother, Saif, was at the end of the corridor and ran to their room when he heard the screams.
“My son still remembers seeing the blood on the ceiling, the walls and all over the floor and seeing his sister’s brain on the pillow,” said Mrs Al Mulla, 55.
“No one can get over it. I have lost my daughter, Ohoud, and my other two are in pain and my family in shock.
“I’ll tell you exactly how our lives have become – doctor’s appointments.
Every day we all go to the hospital for appointments. I can’t tell day from night anymore.
“We can’t go anywhere or do anything. At any moment any of the three girls can have a seizure, and Ohoud has tubes attached to her body. I don’t want to and will never leave her side again. We can’t miss any of their appointments and they have appointments and rehabilitation sessions throughout the day.”
Khulood, Ohoud and Fatima had to retire from their jobs as they were deemed to be medically unfit to work.
Spence was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2015 but that has not brought the family any peace.
“Will that bring our sister back to us? Will it heal our injuries?” said Khulood, who has metal plates in most of her face, head, arm and bolts that are used to hold her jaw, which had detached.
Fatima said: “It is a nightmare that we are reliving every single second. This isn’t my life. It doesn’t feel like it’s mine. It’s a nightmare that we can’t wake up from.”
Half of Fatima’s face was paralysed and her left eye was stuck open for six weeks after the attack.
“I have three drawers full of different tablets which I start taking first thing in the morning,” she said.
As a result of a concussion, Fatima’s short-term memory and hearing are damaged, and she cannot tolerate bright light or standing for long periods. Her kidneys are also deteriorating because of all the medication.
“I see a neurologist, cardiologist, ophthalmologist, internalist, orthopaedic and every kind of doctor possible,” said Fatima, who was an IT engineer.
“I don’t see any hope that we get our lives back. At one time I used to have a job, ambitions, friends and colleagues. Now my friends are the doctors and nurses I see everyday. Our scars and disabilities are permanent.”
Ohoud’s last voice message to her mother before the attack was: “Don’t worry mum, London is safe, it is very safe”.
“She was a flower. My flower. I depended on her for everything and she used to hold us all together. I never leave my daughters and I wish I had never allowed them to go that day,” said Mrs Al Mulla.
The family has turned down many interview requests.
“We don’t want anyone’s pity,” said Khulood. “I was a strong and healthy woman and the look of pity I saw in people’s eyes while I was in the hospital made me sad. We are grateful for the overwhelming love and support we received from everyone in the UAE and the UK but we just want people to be careful. We were staying in a reputable hotel in the city and in a few minutes, the lives of the entire family was destroyed.”
The family are in the middle of a legal battle with the hotel, which they are suing at London’s High Court.