A railway ticket office worker who died with coronavirus after being spat at while on duty was “a good person, a good mother, and a good wife” who cared for everybody, her widower has said.
Belly Mujinga, who had an 11-year-old daughter, was on the concourse of Victoria station in London on March 22 when a member of the public who said he had Covid-19 spat and coughed at her and a colleague.
Both women fell ill with the virus within days of the attack, and Ms Mujinga died in hospital in Barnet on April 5.
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.
Her husband, Lusamba Gode Katalay, told the PA news agency how the suspect walked up to Ms Mujinga and spat in her face.
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.”
Mr Katalay said his wife had an operation four years ago and had underlying respiratory problems. Within a week of the incident, she began to feel ill and was admitted to hospital on April 2.
“That was the last time I saw her,” Mr Katalay said. “We just said, ‘Be good’, and that God is in charge.
“We did a WhatsApp video in hospital, but then I didn’t hear from her again. I thought she might be asleep, but the doctor phoned me to tell me she had died.”
She was a good person, a good mother, and a good wifeLusamba Gode Katalay
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “It is despicable for a key worker to be attacked in this way while serving the travelling public.
“Our thoughts are with Mrs Mujinga family’s at this terrible time.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has told MPs latest figures show 42 Transport for London (TfL) workers have died with Covid-19, in addition to 10 Network Rail staff.
Mr Katalay said: “She was a good person, a good mother, and a good wife. She gave her friendship to many people. She was a caring person and would take care of everybody.”
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 April 29.
Her union, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA), has reported the incident to the Railways Inspectorate, the safety arm of the Office for Road and Rail (ORR), for investigation, and is taking legal advice.
TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “We are shocked and devastated at Belly’s death. She is one of far too many frontline workers who have lost their lives to coronavirus.
Last month we lost Victoria ticket office member Belly to coronavirus. Read her story here: https://t.co/vPBkHFRDup— TSSA (@TSSAunion) May 12, 2020
“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.”
Angie Doll, managing director of Southern Railway and Gatwick Express, owned by Govia Thameslink Railway, said: “We are devastated that our dedicated colleague Belly has passed away and our deepest sympathies are with her family with whom we have been in touch through this very difficult time.”
She 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.”
Lib Dem MP Sarah Olney (Richmond Park) paid tribute to Ms Mujinga during a Commons debate on Covid-19.
She said: “I know that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to Belly Mujinga, a ticket checker at Victoria station who died after contracting coronavirus from a traveller who spat at her.
“We are asking a huge amount of our transport workers, we’re now asking them to keep us safe as we return to work.”
Ms Olney said she had written with the support of other MPs to Mr Shapps and mayor of London Sadiq Khan to call for PPE for transport workers “to protect them as they go about their essential work”.
Anyone with information is asked to contact BTP by texting 61016 or calling 0800 405040 and quoting reference 359 of 11/05/20.
A fundraising page for Ms Mujinga’s family has been set up at de.gofundme.com/f/rip-belly-mujinga