An explosion startled guests and hotel staff at the Sofitel Wentworth Hotel in Hunter Valley just before 1:30am on the morning of November 26th. Firefighters responding to the scene reported finding an explosive device inside the poker machine that exploded.
The machine with the bomb was located inside the hotel’s ground floor poker room, though no one was playing the machine – or even in the vicinity of the machine – at the time of the incident. Approximately a dozen people, including the hotel manager, were sleeping in the hotel at the time, and all escaped without injury, according to the Cessnock fire station officer Mark Williams.
Jason Fenton, his wife Victoria, and their three children were among the guests of the hotel at the time. Mrs. Fenton commented to the local press, “At first I thought it was a massive clap of thunder… it was this deep, thundering sound. It was just horrible.”
A large window in the poker room was shattered, and the bomb blast could be heard from the fire station located about 300m from the hotel. No fire resulted, only broken glass on the pavement below the window outside of the room. Some interior damage to the room was noted.
Detectives that came to search the room noted a strong smell of gunpowder in the air. Suggestions were bandied about that the true target was a cash machine and the bomb was mistakenly put into the poker machine, but this was simply speculation. One officer said, “It’s just an unusual incident and it’s hard to say what the motive was.”
Fire brigade superintendent Craig Brierley mentioned that the hotel was in a high risk area. “We’ve had crews on stand-by for most of the day to keep an eye on things and because of the high risk situation,” he said without elaborating further.
Bomb specialists have been brought in to cooperate with the investigation with detectives from Sydney. The room was searched when the smoke cleared, and evidence is currently being analyzed. Results from the investigation may be released within one week.
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