Apr 30, 2019 Hotels, Leisure & Tourism

Sir Mo Farah and the stolen TAG Heuer – who’s liable?

Just before this year’s London Marathon, a bit of a fracas erupted between Sir Mo Farah, one of the UK’s greatest-ever runners, and his fellow long-distance legend Haile Gebrselassie. Sir Mo claimed that, while staying at a hotel owned by Mr Gebrselassie, a member of staff broke into his room and stole a TAG Heuer watch and £2,600 in cash.

However, Haile wasn’t too impressed. He strenuously disputed the allegations and countered Sir Mo’s claims with a charge sheet of his own complaints against his famous guest.

Whatever the truth of the matter, the spat highlights a delicate issue which hoteliers may face – belongings being stolen from guests while ostensibly safely stored in their rooms.

UK law is quite clear, although that’s no consolation to Sir Mo. This alleged incident took place in Addis Ababa in Egypt; and there appears to be no sign of his watch, which was a gift from his wife, finding its way back to him.

But where wealthy clients have had goods stolen, the cost of the missing items could run into millions. What then for hoteliers? Luckily, the law itself is quite straightforward.

 

The law

Under the Hotel Proprietors Act, the hotelier’s liability for the loss, damage or theft of guests’ goods while on the premises is quite limited. The totals are just £750 for one item and £1,500 for multiple items. This applies to all goods kept in a guest room. But most guests will be surprised to learn that it also applies to goods kept in the room safe.

The balance on whether or not the law applies is weighted very much in favour of the hotel guest. Unless the hotelier can show that the loss occurred because the guest was careless, the law applies. Significantly, if the guest gives valuables or other good to the hotel for safekeeping (and the law also says you can’t refuse), and a theft occurs, then the hotel is fully liable.

However, if you plan to rely on the Act, strict requirements must be met. A notice using wording set out in the Act should be printed in plain text and easily read when a guest’s property is brought to the hotel, at or near the reception desk or main entrance.

It’s important to get the display and wording correct – an American family on holiday in the UK had £100,000 worth of cash and jewellery stolen from their room in a five star hotel in London, some of which was later recovered by police. The hotel’s parent company offered £1,500 in compensation for the remainder, claiming protection under the Act.

However, the family claimed in court the notice wasn’t sufficiently conspicuous, and the hotel settled out of court without a decision having been reached.

So should you just offer the £1,500 in settlement and have done with it? For PR reasons you might not wish to do so, but you do have the choice. Just make sure you’re on solid ground before you dig your heels in.

 

Checklist

  • Check the wording of your notice. Mistakes might invalidate it.
  • Check that the notice is properly displayed at or near reception or the main entrance, in a conspicuous place.
  • Brief staff on the importance of the notice, as the benefit is lost as soon as it is taken down or improperly displayed.
  • Take steps to manage the risk of hotel employees causing loss through their default, neglect or wilful acts.
  • Be aware that the hotel will be fully liable if the valuables are given to you to be placed in the hotel safe or a safety deposit box.
  • Brief staff that if they refuse to accept valuables, the hotel becomes fully liable for any consequential loss or theft.

Beware

Obviously, your priority will be to prevent theft occurring on your premises in the first place. However, if it does, you should be aware that failure to comply with the Act leaves you fully liable for any losses.

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Blackford is a trading name of Blackford Group Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (Firm Reference 831508). Registered Office: Blackford Group Limited, 26 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh EH2 4ET (Registered SC616744). Blackford Group Limited is an Appointed Representative of James Hallam Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (Firm Reference 134435).

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