Police examine CCTV footage of suspect who spat at UK rail worker who later died

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  • May 13, 2020
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Police have recovered CCTV footage of a suspect who spat at a railway ticket office worker who died later of coronavirus, amid fears that spitting is being used as a weapon against frontline workers.

Belly Mujinga, 47, was allegedly spat at and coughed at on the concourse of London’s Victoria station in March by a man claiming to have contracted the virus. She died of Covid-19 two weeks later in a case that has united political leaders in disgust. It comes after a series of reports that key workers across the country are increasingly being spat and coughed at by members of the public during the pandemic.

Mujinga’s employer, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), confirmed it has passed video of the incident to the British Transport Police.

Asked whether there was a delay in handing over the CCTV, a spokeswoman for Govia said: “We have shared CCTV footage with the BTP and are supporting them with their investigation.”

CCTV now obtained by detectives contains footage of a potential suspect police want to find in relation to the alleged threatening and spitting at the railway worker who later died from coronavirus, it is understood.

It had been feared that some of the video could have been wiped or not recorded because GTR failed to report the attack at the time. But a police investigation, that only began this week, has managed to recover at least one image of the suspect from one of the cameras.

A witness, who did not want to be named, said the man who spat at Mujinga, and another worker who fell ill, was around 50 years old and smartly dressed. They said: “The gentlemen looked like a lawyer or something. He asked us why we weren’t in the ticket office. He said: ‘you know I have the virus’. Then he spat and started coughing. We told our managers to call the police. I don’t know if they did.”

British Transport Police confirmed it received a report of the attack only on Monday this week, more than a month after Mujinga died. A spokesman added: “We are still in the process of reviewing CCTV opportunities.”

Meanwhile, the transport union TSSA is calling on the government to extend the coronavirus compensation scheme for health and care workers to the families of transport workers who lose their lives.

The government has yet to respond to the request. Boris Johnson described Mujinga’s death as “tragic”. Speaking during prime ministers questions he said: “The fact that she was abused for doing her job is utterly appalling.”

A family photograph of Belly Mujinga with her daugher Ingrid, issued by her sister Agnes Ntumba. Photograph: Family handout/PA

The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said the case was “absolutely heartbreaking”, but that it was a criminal matter, not about staff having more protective equipment.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme he said: “Nobody should be spat at, this is not a question of PPE. It’s just disgusting and I know the British Transport Police are investigating.”

In a letter to Johnson, the TSSA general secretary, Manuel Cortes, said: “We’re writing to ask you to extend the compensation scheme to Belly Mujinga’s family and to other transport workers who die from coronavirus. While we can’t change what happened to Belly, we can and should do everything in our power to prevent any more deaths from this horrific virus.”

Victoria station staff have been speaking about their fear of working after the attack. A gate worker, Victor Bangura, 34, said: “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.”

Linda Freitas, who has worked at Victoria for 13 years, said: “I don’t think people realise how much abuse we get. We have occasions where people become aggressive; it’s very bad, it’s scary.”

Unions representing other frontline workers have warned spitting incidents have risen sharply since the start of the outbreak. A survey of shopworkers by their union, Usdaw, found abuse and threats by customers had doubled since the start of the outbreak. A spokesman said: “Sometimes it is deliberate, when spit is used as a weapon; other times it occurs when customers are extremely angry and end up spitting when shouting.”

One said: “We had a shoplifter threaten to give us the Covid-19 by spitting in our faces.” Another said: “I witnessed a man spit into a colleague’s face for not allowing him to take 12 toilet rolls.”

Last week a man in Glasgow was charged with spitting in the face of a police officer and declaring he had coronavirus.

Over the weekend, Northamptonshire police said that in just one evening officers had been attacked, spat at and had urine thrown over them. Last month an officer from the force had had to self-isolate after being spat at.

Police Scotland have recorded more than 100 incidents against police officers since the start of the lockdown, including cases where officers were spat at or coughed on.

Iain Lindsay, 48, from Inverness, was this week jailed for endangering the lives of two police officers by coughing on them last month. The fiscal depute David Morton told Inverness sheriff court: “Although he was not displaying any Covid-19 related symptoms, particularly in the present climate this caused both the officers, and those with whom they live, significant alarm and distress.”

Last week a woman in north Wales was charged with spitting in the faces of two police officers in Holywell, near Rhyl.

A spokeswoman for the Police Federation said: “We have seen some vile and disgusting acts by a minority, weaponising Covid-19 by spitting and coughing at officers. It is therefore absolutely right and proper that the home secretary is clear that those who do so should feel the full weight of the law. Those responsible for weaponising the virus are the lowest of the low.”