It was widely reported last week that an inquest is to be held into the death of Belly Mujinga, the railway worker who died with Covid-19 following an incident at Victoria Station on 21 March. Ms Mujinga worked as a ticket clerk for Govia Thameslink Railway at the station and was allegedly coughed upon and spat at by a customer. She subsequently developed Covid-19, was hospitalised and died on 5 April 2020, aged 47.
A police investigation into the death concluded there was insufficient evidence to charge the man who allegedly twice assaulted Ms Mujinga and her colleague on the station concourse. After a public outcry about the safety of frontline workers during the pandemic, the CPS reviewed the evidence and concluded there was insufficient evidence to bring charges. Ms Mujinga’s family has campaigned for an inquest and senior coroner, Andrew Walker, has decided an inquest is appropriate as her death may have been ‘unnatural’.
Coroners investigate deaths if they have reason to suspect that:
- the death was violent or unnatural; or
- the cause of death is unknown; or
- the death occurred in state detention.
The purpose of an inquest is to establish the identity of the deceased person and how, when, and where s/he died. Information discovered during the inquest may be used to assist in the prevention of other deaths.
An inquest is not intended to establish blame or liability but this inquest will touch upon interesting employer liability issues - the extent of the duty of care owed by employers to employees during the pandemic and in relation to public harassment and racial abuse and causation. It will investigate concerns about the provision of PPE to Ms Mujinga and her deployment at Victoria Station. Whether the alleged incident was the source of her infection will, we suspect, be difficult to determine. Current evidence suggests that COVID-19 spreads rapidly in several ways and has a variable incubation period. It appears still extremely difficult to pinpoint the source of infection.
The inquest date is awaited.
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