I know from the many emails I have received from constituents over recent weeks that Belly Mujinga’s death has caused real pain and anger.
Those who have written to me simply do not understand why it was decided that no further action would be taken with regard to her death and they see the matter as symbolic both of the inequalities this pandemic has exposed but also the systemic biases that exist in our society.
There is no doubt that Belly’s death has shone a light on the abuse, harassment and violence that transport workers face, the risks being taken by front line workers in the current crisis and the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.
There is no question that Belly deserves justice, but ensuring that justice is served demands that we understand and act on the basis of the facts of the case.
An investigation into Belly’s death by British Transport Police (BTP), based on a series of interviews with witnesses to the incident and CCTV footage, concluded that there was no evidence of any individual having spat on her or her colleague. Moreover, that same investigation found that the man involved in the incident, who detectives interviewed as part of their enquiries, tested negative for Covid-19 antibodies subsequent to it. On that basis, and having reviewed the evidence as a whole, senior detectives have made clear that they are satisfied that the incident did not lead directly to Belly’s death.
I personally believe that there are questions that still need to be answered about the incident and that there is a case for releasing the CCTV footage in question. I also believe that a fuller explanation is required about the grounds upon which it was decided to take no further action, especially given the fact that the transmission, or even threatened transmission, of a virus by coughing would, in most cases, amount to a criminal offence, that a number of prosecutions have already been brought against people who have threatened to transmit Covid-19 by deliberately coughing on people (the more serious charge of manslaughter would require establishing, beyond reasonable doubt, a chain of causation between the act and the death) and that the Criminal Prosecution Service has made clear it will take such matters seriously.
I am therefore glad that the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has written to the BTP requesting further details about the incident (though it should be noted that Belly was a Govia Thameslink employee not an employee of Transport for London), that the Office for Road and Rail’s Railway Inspectorate (the health and safety body overseeing Britain’s railways) are undertaking a health and safety investigation which I hope will help to establish more facts about the case and that the Crown Prosectuion Service has now indicated it will review the evidence in “recognition of wider public interest”.
Whatever the facts about the incident and the precise reasons for Belly’s death, it is absolutely clear that more needs to be done to prevent front line workers being abused, harassed and attacked and to protect them during the pandemic.
Leaving aside the pertinent question of why Belly was working on a concourse given her underlying health conditions, it beggars belief that she was not provided with PPE. I very much agree with her family that Govia Thameslink must do more to protect their workers from the virus and support Belly’s trade union, the TSSA, in its demands for all transport workers on the front line to have access to masks, visors, hand sanitiser and other protective equipment.