Family and friends of a transport worker who died after reportedly being coughed and spat on by a passenger who claimed to have Covid-19 have renewed calls for an inquest following an investigation by BBC Panorama revealed that her employer Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) knew of her long-term health condition.
Belly Mujinga passed away on April 5th after a commuter allegedly coughed and spat at her deliberately while she was working as a sales clerk at Victoria Station, telling Ms Mujinga that ‘I have coronavirus, and I’ll pass it on to you.’ GTR, Ms Mujinga’s employer, began an internal investigation after being informed of the incident by her union, TSSA. However, they did not then contact police. Whilst GTR have argued that they were not obliged to report deliberate coughing as assault, under UK law two men have already been prosecuted for assault after allegedly coughing and spitting at police officers with intent.
Ms Mujinga suffered from sarcoidosis, a serious health problem that affects the lungs and throat, and was immunocompromised as a result of the medication she took to treat it. Whilst GTR claimed that sarcoidosis was not on the government’s shielding list, a separate report uncovered by BBC Panorama revealed that GTR was aware of Ms Mujinga’s health condition and were aware that it affected her lungs and throat. Her family have since asked why she was not moved from her customer-facing role.
Questions were raised over the subsequent lack of criminal prosecution. Ms Mujinga’s death was not subject to criminal investigation until May 12, when a press release from Ms Mujinga’s union prompted British Transport Police to investigate. Whilst both British Transport Police and later CPS declared there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the alleged assaulter, who was identified in CCTV footage, British Transport Police pointed to the fact that the man was negative for COVID antibodies, when at the time there was no reliable antibody test available.
Speaking to BBC Panorama, Martin Forde QC said that he believed ‘there are sufficient doubts and conflicts around the facts of this case to justify an investigation’. Ms Mujinga’s death became a flashpoint for this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests in London, in which protesters maintained that the handling of her assault and death was coloured by racial bias. BBC Panorama has since uncovered that before her death, Ms Mujinga had filed a grievance against her employer alleging discrimination in their handling of an incident that resulted in Ms Mujinga being suspended from her job.
Manuel Cortes, General Secretary of the Transport Salaried Staff’s Association (TSSA), has subsequently written to the Prime Minister calling for an inquest into the death of Ms Mujinga. In his letter, Cortes states: ‘There are simply too many gaps and glaring omissions in this tragic sequence of events…Belly’s family deserve to know the truth.’