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Murdered BBC staffer had kept off Addis on safety fears

NAIROBI
By Nzau Musau | November 22nd 2021

Kate Michell was found dead at a Westlands hotel, in her room. [Courtesy]

The BBC journalist who was killed at a Westlands hotel in Nairobi on Friday was part of the corporation’s staff that had fled the chaos in neighbouring Ethiopia.

Kate Mitchell, a British national, who headed the broadcaster’s charity wing, BBC Media Action’s operations in Addis Ababa, had come to Kenya last month for safety training when the UK government issued evacuation directives to its national in Addis.

Mitchell then hang on in Nairobi, as the uncertainty in Addis unfolded, and as she organised herself either to obtain a work visa for Nairobi or to move back to London pending the resolution of the conflict.

She was found dead at a Westlands hotel, in her room. A man believed to have killed her also lay dead a few floors, after jumping through her hotel window.

Police sources say she had been spotted with the man having drinks on the day she was killed. Her former colleagues say she was last active online at 11:37 pm on Thursday night. She was found dead the following morning.

“No one seems to know what exactly happened. She was an amiable person to work with, versatile but firm, very understanding and blessed with a deep knowledge of her area of work,” Robert Wanjala of Article 19 told The Standard.

Wanjala had worked with Mitchell in Addis Ababa for the media strengthening programme targeting independent media. The project entailed finding effective, sustainable solutions on the viability of independent media in fragile contexts.

He said as the civil strife engulfed the country, their meetings grew far in between.

“My last conversation with her sometimes back entailed what is happening in Addis. We used to have weekly meetings on our programme but then slowed down because of the situation there,” Wanjala added.

According to police, the suspect has since been identified as the journalist's fixer. It is believed that he had severally been spotted with the media personality. Police were also said to be reviewing CCTV footage of the building to authenticate eyewitness accounts.

The hotel where she succumbed describes itself as a “unique work of music and art” where value meets style: “We are modern, warm and perfectly equipped for solo travellers, families and groups.”

It further says that it’s the ideal spot for a business traveller who is conscious about value for money and affordability. Its rooftop has a sports bar from where panoramic views of the Nairobi skyline can be gleaned.

It is believed that a quarrel between the pair started at the lobby of the hotel, with the woman objecting to the man’s continued company. The man then followed her to her room and locked it from inside.

The details then get scanty, except for the fact that Mitchell raised an alarm. When hotel security arrived, she lay on her deathbed, and the man had leapt from the glass window to his death.

“We are investigating circumstances surrounding these deaths, but so far it is apparent the man jumped (out of) the window after killing her,' Nairobi police chief Augustine Thumbi told AFP over the weekend.

A statement attributed to BBC Media Action CEO Caroline Nursey said Mitchell had been the wing’s senior project manager in Ethiopia. She said they were all “shocked and horrified” by the news.

Yesterday, Mitchell's family described her as a deeply beloved daughter, sister and friend. They said they were only beginning to come to terms with the magnitude of her loss.

‘Kate loved her work and was tireless in her efforts to make the world a better place. She leaves behind many, many beloved friends and colleagues around the world. We want to extend our sympathies to everyone who knew, worked with and loved her, and our sincere thanks for the many messages of comfort we have received," Peter Mitchell, her brother said.

They said as they work with the relevant institutions to unravel the mystery of her death, people should ignore speculation in parts of the press and on social media.

‘We ask everyone to respect our family's privacy as we grieve Kate's loss’.

Additional reporting Kamore Maina?

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