Belly Mujinga: Colleagues Speak Out As CPS 'Reviews Evidence' Around Spit Attack

The Victoria station worker died two weeks after she was attacked by a man who claimed to have Covid-19.
Belly Mujinga died of coronavirus after being spat at while on duty
Belly Mujinga died of coronavirus after being spat at while on duty

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Two months ago today, rail worker Belly Mujinga died after she was reportedly spat at while on duty at Victoria Station by a man claiming to have coronavirus.

The assault was not reported to the police for seven weeks – long after Mujinga had died, leaving behind 11-year-old daughter Ingrid and husband Lusamba Gode Katalay.

Last week British Transport Police (BTP) announced it was taking no further action in the matter, stating it had found insufficient proof of a crime to justify any prosecution.

The move comes as protests in the UK over the brutal police killing of George Floyd in the US have amplified anger over Mujinga’s death.

And now one of Mujinga’s own colleagues has spoken to HuffPost UK to allege that their employer Govia Thameslink was negligent in its refusal to report the attack – as she had pleaded with them to – and that staff are still not being properly protected from the threat of coronavirus.

Protesters during the Black Lives Matter protest at Hyde Park
Protesters during the Black Lives Matter protest at Hyde Park
SOPA Images via Getty Images

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said senior staff were aware of Mujinga’s underlying health conditions – including respiratory issues – which made her vulnerable, but forced her to work outside on the station concourses instead of inside the ticket office.

He said: “We were all aware that Belly had underlying conditions. Belly was not able to stand for long hours, she had a problem with her feet and she made the business aware that she couldn’t do it.

“But team leaders and managers had that persuasive and pushy way to get her outside. Other staff, we took turns going out, there are a few members whom we know have conditions, so what we do is if we know they are going out, we swap with them, just to allow them to be in the office.”

As the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold, sickness meant fewer staff were in the office on March 22, the day Mujinga was attacked.

Our source said: “That’s why Belly ended up going out – otherwise she wouldn’t have been outside. Everyone knew her and people were willing to do that for her.

Protester holding a 'speaking out about the death of Belly Mujinga' placard during the Black Lives Matter protest at Hyde Park
Protester holding a 'speaking out about the death of Belly Mujinga' placard during the Black Lives Matter protest at Hyde Park

“There had been ongoing situations, grievances and talks between herself and a few of the team leaders and the managers for quite a long time. So from my perspective that was a way to get back at her, indirectly.

“From a common sense and human point of view, if you know that someone’s got issues, and if you know that what is circulating could affect them, you would try not to get them out there.

“The company didn’t send for the police like she asked. I think it was full negligence of whoever was on shift, both the team leader and the manager.”

According to Mujinga’s union, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA), after the attack, she asked instead to work from inside the ticket office, claiming she was scared for her life owing to her health problems which had forced her to take time off work in the past. As we now know, these pleas went unanswered.

In a statement released on Friday, Mujinga’s husband demanded: “We want to know why she was sent out to work unprotected on the station concourse that day. We want to know why she was working when she had a respiratory condition. We want justice for Belly’s colleagues who still don’t have full PPE.”

A protestor holds a sign for Belly Mujinga at a Black Lives Matter peaceful protest in Southampton
A protestor holds a sign for Belly Mujinga at a Black Lives Matter peaceful protest in Southampton
EMPICS Entertainment

Govia has long maintained that it has been following government advice on PPE and that at the time of Mujinga’s attack, frontline station staff were not being supplied with gloves or masks. But two months on after her death, PPE provision to its staff seems patchy at best.

When asked if he had been provided with gloves or a mask, HuffPost UK’s source replied: “No.”

He added: “The managers are not enforcing or encouraging staff to get face coverings while they’re on shift. Gloves have been been provided but they are in a small size which don’t actually fit most people’s hands – they tend to rip.” Govia told HuffPost UK it had “no supply issue with gloves” and that there were “a wide variety of sizes available”.

The source added: “I’ve seen managers getting themselves covered appropriately and doing what they need to do. But if you look at the staff, there’s no duty of care. There’s no one saying: ‘Look, I’ve seen you without gloves – why are you not wearing gloves?’ That kind of conversation has never happened and it’s still not happening.”

Another of Mujinga’s colleagues told HuffPost UK: “The treatment of some of my colleagues leaves me shaking with anger. I’ve got colleagues who are BAME and over 60 years of age, some with health issues, and they’ve been sent out to work on the concourse throughout the pandemic. It’s a complete lack of care towards staff, especially those in vulnerable groups. I’m so angry about it.

“I can’t imagine going to the funeral of another friend. I don’t want to do that.”

The TSSA has called on the rail industry to take action over evidence confirmed by the government this week showing BAME individuals are at greater risk of Covid-19 than other communities but says many of its members remain fearful for their safety.

The study, from Public Health England (PHE), looked at the risk factors for coronavirus and found BAME individuals have a much higher risk of death than white people, as do those from poorer backgrounds, men and anyone who is obese or suffering from diabetes.

‘She’s Black – she doesn’t have a voice right now’

Mujinga’s name has been chanted by thousands of people protesting this week. On Wednesday activists, including members of Mujinga’s family, descended upon Victoria station holding signs demanding justice.

Naomi Smith, one of the event organisers, told the PA news agency: “We want people to understand that people are dying from coronavirus and people are dying from racism.”

Smith, 21, said Mujinga’s death was one of her reasons for protesting.

“I think that is my main reason for this. Because she’s Black – she doesn’t have a voice right now,” Smith said.

“This is our story, this is a UK story, this is what’s going on right now with us. George Floyd is in America, and we’re here for him as well.”

On Friday, Mujinga’s husband echoed those calls. He said: “Black lives do matter. Belly’s life mattered. It mattered to me, to our daughter, our friends and family, to Belly’s colleagues, and now it matters to many thousands of you out there.

“We were there, united in our anger and our grief. United in our determination to be heard and in our determination to get change. We need change so badly. We want justice for Belly. Belly didn’t lie about being assaulted.

“Belly and her colleague were confronted and intimidated as frontline workers and their concerns and their concerns and their fears were ignored. We continue to have questions after the police investigation.”

Manuel Cortes, general secretary for Mujinga’s union the TSSA, said: “The protest showed just how much Belly’s story has touched the public. We salute the Black Lives Matter campaign for fighting racism and our union continues to be part of the struggle against racism in any form.

“We are also continuing to fight for justice for Belly. We reported the station incident to the Rail Inspectorate back in April and their investigation is ongoing. We also need protection for her colleagues, so many of whom are Black, Asian and minority ethnic people working on the front line. Right across our transport networks it’s vital that staff are protected from this virus.

“It’s great to see the public and politicians rally behind Belly’s campaign and it’s important that this energy is directed towards securing positive change and protections for all workers.”

Health and safety investigation

Mujinga’s family have said the outcome of the BTP investigation was “disappointing” but that they await the findings of the CPS review and of a health and safety investigation into her work environment.

In a statement after the BTP announced the case would go no further Katalay said: “There are important things we need answers to. Her union, the TSSA, reported it to Her Majesty’s Railway Inspectorate [the health and safety body of the Office for Road and Rail], and that investigation into the safety of Belly’s workplace is still ongoing.

“Hopefully that will answer questions like why she was out working on the concourse at all given that she had a respiratory health issue.”

Katalay also said his wife’s death should come under the government compensation scheme, noting that while “money can’t bring her back or take away our pain” it would at least be a recognition of “the sacrifice that all key workers have made to help our country through this pandemic”.

A fundraising page for Mujinga’s family has seen more than £175,000 pledged. Likewise, a petition demanding Justice for Belly has been signed by more than a million people.

BAME frontline deaths

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Helen Hayes said on Thursday there must be justice for Mujinga.

She said: “Thousands of BAME frontline workers recognise the risks that Belly faced as the same risks that they continue to be exposed to and her appalling death must lead to change. There must be justice for Belly Mujinga and her family by way of meaningful action to stop unnecessary BAME frontline deaths now.

“When will the government instruct employers to put in place the comprehensive protections which are needed for all BAME staff and other vulnerable workers who need protection to stop them dying now?”

Responding for the government, Kemi Badenoch, women and equalities minister, said: “I’ve been extremely saddened and shocked by what I’ve read about her death. I understand, though, contrary to what she [Hayes] says, that the reason British Transport Police are not taking action in Belly Mujinga’s case is because senior detectives are confident that the incident at Victoria station did not lead to her contracting Covid.

“Nevertheless, this was an appalling incident and frontline workers like Ms Mujinga deserve to be treated with respect at work, especially during this challenging time.”

In the meantime, Mujinga’s colleagues are trying to maintain a sense of hope that something will be done about her death.

Our source said: “I want to be in a position where I can head back to work and know that justice came to the family, especially because it’s so heartbreaking for an 11-year-old who hasn’t got her mum anymore.

“Belly was someone who could change your day from down to up easily. She was that type of person who got everyone engaged, she kept everyone’s mood up. You could come in upset and speaking to her, you’d have a laugh.

“I’ve known her for five years and if there’s one thing I knew her for, it was her daughter. The love she had for Ingrid, it was something unbelievable. She would literally break her own legs, do anything [...] If she could jump up to the moon she would. And that is what hurts me the most. All the work she put in, all the effort, all the sweat, she’s not even in a position to enjoy her life with her daughter. And being taken away, just like that, through the negligence of someone else, that hurts me the most.”

HuffPost UK has put the specific allegations in this article to Mujinga’s employers. Angie Doll, managing director of Southern Railway and Gatwick Express, said: “Our hearts go out to Belly’s family who we continue to offer our deepest sympathies to.

“While the conclusion of the British Transport Police investigation found no evidence of spitting, any loss of one of our dedicated colleagues from Coronavirus is one too many.

“Our absolute focus remains on keeping all of our colleagues safe, and we continue to follow all government health advice to protect them. We thank our key workers for their commitment at this incredibly challenging time for our country.”

A spokesperson added: “We cannot comment further as we continue to complete our internal review.”


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