Mumbai attack victim wins first battle

Posted: 19th December 2013

Taj mahalA British survivor of the Mumbai terror attacks has convinced the High Court that his fight for multi-million-pound compensation should be heard in England, rather than in India where his case could take more than 20 years to reach finality.

Will Pike, aged 33, has been confined to a wheelchair since plummeting 50 feet from a window of the luxury Taj Mahal Palace Hotel after heavily armed fanatics stormed the building in November 2008. He and his then girlfriend, Kelly Doyle, were enjoying one night of luxury at the world-famous hotel following a 15-day back-packing tour of India.

The pair endured the trauma of hiding in their darkened room for several hours as a fire-fight developed outside and smoke curled under their door as the hotel blazed.

Mr Pike managed to smash one of the double glazed windows before tying together sheets for a make-shift rope. However, his attempt at escape ended in tragedy as the rope parted and he plunged 50 to the street below.

Mr Pike suffered devastating spinal injuries whilst Miss Doyle - who still bears the mental scars of what happened - was rescued by the emergency services. They are both seeking damages from the hotel's owners, the Indian Hotels Company Limited, which is part of the sprawling Tata industrial group which has an annual turnover approaching £100 billion and substantial interests in the UK.

Their lawyers argue that the hotel's security was seriously lax, despite warning signs that a terrorist attack might be imminent. They claim that there was only one metal detector on the door and that, apart from a few porters and doormen in traditional dress, there was almost no security on hand to protect well-heeled guests. Body searches on visitors, they say, were 'very cursory'.

The hotel company denies all liability in the case and, as a preliminary issue, argued that the English courts had no jurisdiction to entertain the former couple’s claims and that their cases should be heard in India. After hearing expert evidence on the delays that afflict the Indian civil justice system, the Court ruled in favour of Mr Pike and Miss Doyle on that issue.

The Court observed: “Mr Pike is a man who is not quite 34 years of age.  A favourable decision in England would give him the money substantially to improve his standard of living and enable him to better come to terms with his disability when he is about 36 years of age. If the proceedings have to be brought in India then he would be something like 50 to 55 years of age before that occurs.”

If the former couple had to fight their case in India, their claims would probably take 15 years to make their way through the Indian High Court, with the likelihood of lengthy appellate processes thereafter. It was submitted that they would be unable to fund the costs of litigating the case in India, which would be in the region of £200-300,000. In those circumstances, the Court found that justice required that the English courts accept jurisdiction to hear the claims.

Mr Pike said after the court’s decision: "I am very relieved about the judgment. For one thing, it means that justice will be allowed to take its course - if the trial were to take place in India, it simply wouldn't have happened.  So now, regardless of the outcome, at least I will know whether the hotel could have done more to ensure my safety, as well as everybody else’s in the building.

"My aim in taking this legal action is to pay for the lifelong care I now need. I do not see why the British taxpayer should have to pay for the lifelong 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."