Wheelchair-bound Will Pike is suing the owners of Mumbai’s iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, the scene of a three-day terrorist siege in November 2008, over alleged negligence in providing security despite several warnings that an attack was imminent.
“He did not choose to bring this claim lightly but only after long, anxious and careful thought,” the 33-year-old freelance filmmaker’s counsel Philip Havers told Justice Stewart in the court.
Pike’s law firm, Leigh Day, is arguing against an attempt by the Indian Hotels Company Limited, owners of Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, to prevent the case being heard in a UK court.
They have told the court that the case should be heard in London, where Pike lives and where the Tata Group firm has a substantial business presence – based around the Crowne Plaza London St James’ Hotel and the Taj Suites just a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace.
According to the legal team, the judgment in the case is likely to be “reserved” and not made immediately at the end of the hearing this week.
“My aim in taking this legal action is to pay for the life-long care I now need and to help other victims of terrorist attacks abroad…I do not see why the British taxpayer should have to pay for the life-long care I need rather than those who I believe did not do enough to guarantee my safety and the safety of all those caught up in this atrocity,” said Pike, one of the many foreign tourists who were staying at the hotel at the time of the attack.
Pike and his then girlfriend, Kelly Doyle – who is also bringing proceedings through the same law firm – claim they saw limited security checks with only one metal detector and cursory screening of guests when they checked in on November 26, 2008 – the day the siege began.
They say they had not been given proper advice about emergency procedures and evacuation routes and, when they heard doors being kicked in and shots fired, had to break a window with furniture from their smoke-filled room and try to reach the ground using bedding and curtains knotted together.
“Mr Pike’s only real hope of seeing justice is in a UK Court. The court in Mumbai simply isn’t geared up to deal with a claim of this kind,” said his lawyer Russel Levy, a partner at Leigh Day.
“We estimate that it would take up to 25 years to pursue this claim through the Indian courts rather than in England, where it will take about two years.
It is simply not right that this billion dollar corporate giant wants to drag our wheelchair-bound client back to India and take him through a legal system where the ‘inequality of arms’ would be significant,” he added.
Pike was paralysed in the attack, when he fell nearly 50 feet breaking his back, pelvis and leg and fracturing both his left wrist and right elbow in a bid to escape the Islamic extremists as they went through the hotel shooting residents and setting fires.
A total of 166 people were killed in the attacks and over 300 injured.
His legal team points to a ‘CNN Asia’ interview in which the then chairman of the Tata Group, Ratan Tata, confirmed that the hotel had been warned of an attack and that security measures previously in place had been relaxed during the time the attack took place.
“I hope it (the case) will ensure that public safety is placed before profits; hotels should have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their guests which should include disclosing information regarding terrorist threats,” claims Pike.