‘Thieves used a hotel masterkey to steal my £3k laptop but Crowne Plaza won’t pay up’

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Dear Katie, 

In December I checked into the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Reading, where I was staying on business. Having attended a work event during the day, I went out for dinner with a friend before heading back up to my room at around 11pm. Upon entering I was almost immediately hit by a sinking feeling. My laptop bag wasn’t on the bed where I had left it.

I was horrified to discover that thieves had gained access to my room and stolen the laptop bag, which contained more than £3,000 worth of technical equipment, including a top of the range Dell laptop.

While I was standing there facing the bed, trying to process what had happened, someone used a key pass to open my room door. But before I could turn around it slammed shut. I ran into the corridor to see who was there, but they had vanished. I felt violated and distinctly uneasy.

I told the hotel night manager that someone had used a key card to enter my room and steal my laptop bag. The next morning I was given assurances that the matter would be investigated and that I would be fully compensated for my losses.

But yesterday I received a letter from the hotel’s loss adjusters to say the hotel was washing its hands of any responsibility for the theft. This seems incredibly unfair.

– BC, via email

Dear Reader, 

You showed me the letter from the loss adjuster, which stated that because the hotel itself hadn’t been negligent, under the Proprietors Act 1956, it was liable only to pay you a maximum of £100 for your losses from the theft.

Rather, it alleged, the negligence was on the part of the maid whose master key was stolen by the thieves when she left it unattended on her cleaning trolley while servicing another room. And as this cleaner was an employee of a subcontracted cleaning agency, rather than a member of the in-house staff, the hotel said, the liability sat with them.

I told the hotel and its insurer, Allianz, that its interpretation of the law conveyed in this letter to you was absolute nonsense. As anyone versed in consumer law would agree, you as a paying guest have a direct contract with the hotel and not the cleaning firm, meaning the latter is irrelevant to this claim.

In fact, the cleaning company is employed by the hotel and as far as you are concerned is part of the hotel’s services. It is therefore not up to you to seek redress from the cleaning firm, as the letter wrongly states.

Rather, it is down to the hotel to compensate you for your losses now and then claim back the money from its subcontractor later.

The next working day the hotel and Allianz capitulated and agreed to compensate you in full for your £3,000 loss. You were delighted, but you say you weren’t the only one robbed by these sneak thieves. You put me in touch with another guest whose room was robbed some 36 hours after yours.

Following my intervention, I am pleased to say he will also now be compensated to the tune of £829, which was mainly for an iPhone 12.

Sadly though, the stolen iPhone belonged to the guest’s father, who had died a couple of weeks before the robbery, meaning that precious photos and videos, which can never be replaced, were lost.

As is often the case with robberies, it was not the loss of expensive items that caused the most upset. When sentimental items are taken it can compound victims’ grief to a whole new level. My thoughts are very much with this man.

From what I can make out, the pair of you may be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the hotel guests targeted that night in December. These low-lives may have been running around the hotel all night with a master key.

The Crowne Plaza Reading says it deactivated the key as soon as it identified that it was being used by an unauthorised person. It will not say how many other hotel rooms were targeted while it was figuring this out, although it has assured me that they will all now receive full compensation.

It says this was the first incident of its kind and that steps are being taken to ensure it never happens again. Well thank goodness for that.

And in other good news, Thames Valley Police has identified those responsible for the alleged theft, recovered a number of items from the suspects and returned them to their rightful owners. Sadly your laptop bag and its contents weren’t among their haul.

A spokesman for the hotel said: “We understand the distress this has caused and have taken the matter very seriously. We apologise for any misinformation between parties as the police have continued to investigate the case. The insurers are in the process of fully reimbursing those affected as promised.

“We are satisfied that the hotel staff reacted quickly and appropriately and, once a method of entry to the rooms was established, all master keys were instantly disabled.”

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