Hotels are targets for terrorists due to the likely presence of foreign tourists and the consequent possibility of impacting multiple nations with one attack.
We blogged https://www.ukrealestatelawblog.com/2017/02/24/revolution-or-evolution-protect-survive/ a few weeks ago about Richard Walton’s keynote speech to the Hogan Lovells CBRE 2017 Hotel Conference. Richard, a former Head of the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command at New Scotland Yard, warned of the need to be vigilant and ensure the adequacy of security measures at hotels to prevent terrorist attacks.
On 28 February 2017, Judge Loraine-Smith delivered his ruling in the Tunisia Inquests on the tragic incident in June 2015 that led to the death of 38 tourists in Sousse. The adequacy of the Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel’s security measures was considered, along with the response from local police and the actions of the tour operator.
Deficient hotel security measures
In light of the increasing threat to tourists in the region (evidenced by a botched suicide bomber attack in October 2013 close to the Riu Imperial and the death of 22 people, mostly tourists, in the Bardo Museum terrorist attack in Tunis on 18 March 2015), a generic security protocol was provided to a number of hotels on 6 April 2015, including the Riu Imperial. Despite this, a number of deficiencies were found in the hotel’s security measures:
• Only three guards were on duty at the hotel that day, none of whom carried walkie-talkies.
• The hotel had six CCTV cameras, far less than the other hotels in the area and two of which (on the front and terrace doors) were not working
• Unlike other hotels, there was no control room.
• The staff had received no training on dealing with a terrorist incident.
• There was no procedure for evacuation.
“lack of care”
The Inquest considered whether a “lack of care verdict” was appropriate under principles established in cases where the victims were found to be in a dependant relationship. The Inquest accepted that, in a non-legal sense, guests of a hotel in a foreign country could be considered to be in a dependant position. However, in law, the dependant relationship must arise because of youth, age, illness or incarceration. According to the judge, that does not cover tourists who have voluntarily agreed to go on holiday abroad.
A finding of “neglect” would, it was said, require a “gross failure to provide shelter“. Whilst there were deficiencies in the security measures at the hotel, some of them appreciable, neglect required a clear and direct causal connection between the conduct and the cause of the death, which was not found here. The judge found that the presence of an armed guard at the hotel was one security measure that could have had a dramatic effect but gun law in Tunisia meant that an armed guard was not a realistic option.
Accordingly, the judge rejected findings of neglect against the hotel. The tour operator was also cleared, although the families of the victims now intend to bring civil proceedings against them. Instead, the judge found the “response by the police was at best shambolic, at worst cowardly“.
The Inquest provides a tragic reminder of the importance of proper security measures and the accountability of hotels in the wake of an attack.