Coronavirus: Railway worker who died after being spat at 'was forced to go back on concourse after incident'

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer

A railway ticket office worker who died with coronavirus after being spat at while on duty was allegedly told to go back to work the rest of her shift.

Belly Mujinga, who had an 11-year-old daughter, was on the concourse of Victoria station in London on 22 March when a member of the public who said he had COVID-19 spat and coughed at her and a colleague.

Ms Mujinga’s union, the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) said there were now “serious questions” about the death that must be answered.

Both Ms Mujinga and her colleague fell ill with the virus within days of the attack, and Ms Mujinga died in hospital in Barnet on 5 April.

Ms Mujinga’s husband, Lusamba Gode Katalay, said the suspect walked up to his wife and spat in her face.

Belly Mujinga died after a member of the public who said he had COVID-19 spat at her. (PA)

He said: “The man asked her what she was doing, why she was there, and she said they were working.

“The man said he had the virus and spat on them. They reported it to their supervisor. Belly came home and told me everything.”

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Belly Mujinga's family claim she told supervisors she was scared for her life following the incident. (PA)

Colleagues of Ms Mujinga have spoken of their own safety fears following the spitting incident.

Gate worker Victor Bangura, 34, told PA: “We are all vulnerable”.

He added: “I was very shocked. It is the last person I would expect it to happen to.

“She was a nice person, looked healthy, she was a mother. Imagine you see someone now like me and the next time they are dead.

“My whole body went into shock. I was very, very emotional.

“We are all vulnerable, in the same station, it could happen to any one of us.”

Ms Mujinga’s family claims she and her colleague told supervisors they were scared for their lives and asked not to be sent back out to work on the concourse.

However, they were told that people were needed to work outside and were sent back for the rest of their shift, according to Sky News.

Ms Mujinga’s husband claims the two women were not given personal protective equipment (PPE) while working with the public at the station.

He said: "They weren't given masks, or gloves, so they were exposed to everyone.

"It's her employer, the company and the state who have to look at that.”

When asked about the incident and the lack of PPE, transport secretary Grant Shapps told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: "My heart goes out to Belly's family. Nobody should be spat at.

Belly Mujinga was originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and moved to the UK in 2000. (PA)

"This is not a question of PPE, it's just disgusting and I know that the British Transport Police are investigating.

"So very, very sad, her death and indeed the deaths of around 50 transport workers is something I take particularly seriously.”

Shapps said he had sent guidance to service operators, adding that PPE was not "broadly recommended" for transport workers by Public Health England.

"Clearly, nobody should ever be spitting at somebody; that's a criminal offence and I know that investigation is under way," he said.

TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said they were “shocked and devastated” at Ms Mujinga’s death.

Belly Mujinga was working at Victoria train station in London at the time of the incident. (Getty)

He added: “There are serious questions about her death, it wasn’t inevitable.

“As a vulnerable person in the ‘at-risk’ category, and her condition known to her employer, there are questions about why she wasn’t stood down from frontline duties early on in this pandemic.

“Rather than talking about the easing the lockdown, the government must first ensure that the right precautions and protections have been taken so that more lives are not lost.

“Our rail industry needs to have a very serious look at what tasks are deemed ‘essential’ and must put protections in place for all our members and our passengers.”

Downing Street described the attack as “despicable”, while British Transport Police are now searching for the suspect – seven weeks later – amid suggestions that bosses at Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) initially failed to call emergency services over the incident, despite Ms Mujinga’s request.

Angie Doll, managing director of Southern Railway and Gatwick Express, owned by GTR, said the company was investigating claims about the way staff handled Ms Mujinga’s case, adding: “We take any allegations extremely seriously.”

A BTP spokesman said: “British Transport Police have now launched an investigation into a report of two members of rail staff being spat at while working at London Victoria station on March 22.”

Ms Mujinga was originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and moved to the UK in 2000.

Her husband and daughter Ingrid were two of only 10 people permitted at her funeral on 29 April.

Anyone with information is asked to contact British Transport Police by texting 61016 or calling 0800 405040 and quoting reference 359 of 11/05/20.

A fundraising page for Ms Mujinga’s family has so far raised over £12,000.

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