Inquest opens into the death of teen who died when he was allegedly pushed into river

  • ITV Wales Journalist Hamish Auskerry was at Pontypridd Coroners Court

A teenager who witnessed the death of 13-year-old Christopher Kapessa in the River Cynon has told a court he saw him “flailing, trying to keep his head above the water, struggling” after he entered the water.

Christopher Kapessa died when he was allegedly pushed into the river from a bridge while playing with friends in July 2019 near Mountain Ash

The full inquest into Christopher’s death opened at Pontypridd Coroner’s Court two days after he would have turned 18. 

Four and a half years on from his death, the inquest is seeking to establish whether he entered the water voluntarily, by accident or as a result of the act of another person.

Christopher Kapessa died after he was allegedly pushed into the River Cynon.

The Coroner, Mr David Regan, will rule on whether, if caused by another person, Christopher’s death was the result of a deliberate act, an accident, or some other reason.

After the initial police investigation had concluded, the Crown Prosecution Service confirmed there was sufficient evidence to seek a prosecution for manslaughter, but decided not to pursue a conviction on the basis that it was not in the public interest to do so.

Christopher’s family challenged this decision in the High Court, but in January 2022 Lord Justice Popplewell and Mr Justice Dove upheld the original decision, in part due to the fact the suspect was only 14 years old at the time of the incident. 

In their conclusions, the judges said: “There is no evidence that the offence was premeditated or pre-planned. 

“The evidence establishes that it was a foolish act, carried out in jest, which resulted in Christopher losing his life and tragedy for his family”. 

After that decision, the lawyer acting for Christopher’s family, Mr Michael Mansfield KC, said “undue and improper weight has been given to the impact of a prosecution upon the future of the offender."

Members of Christopher’s family were present in court number one on Monday morning. A statement written by his mother, Alina Joseph, was read to the court in which she said Christopher was “her treasure” and said her life will never be the same following his death.

“He had so much going for him”, her statement said, “He was at the beginning of his life”.

The family moved to Wales in 2011 and after initially living in Pontypridd, soon moved to Hirwaun, Rhondda Cynon Taf. Christopher’s mother told the court of numerous examples of alleged racism the family were subjected to while they were living there, including assault of her children and criminal damage but the police took no further action. 

A house fire then led to them moving and Christopher began attending Mountain Ash Comprehensive School. 

On the day of the incident in 2019, Christopher had returned home from school and told his mother he was going out to play football. 

But alongside a group of 16 of his friends, Christopher went to a bridge over the river to play in and around the water. 

Christopher Kapessa's body was found in the River Cynon Credit: Family Photo

A statement on behalf of Christopher’s mother, Alina Joseph, said he was not a confident swimmer, but that he’d had basic lessons and had no issues with entering the water while on holiday or visiting a swimming pool. 

The emergency services were called and a search of the river was made between Mountain Ash and Cwmbach after the incident was reported at around 5.40pm on July 1st. 

Christopher was rushed to Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr Tydfil, but was later pronounced dead.

Soon after the incident, a discrimination complaint against South Wales Police was lodged by anti-racism charity The Monitoring Group on behalf of Christopher Kapessa's mother, Alina Joseph. 

Based on an interim report, South Wales Police said there was no indication that any police officer acted in a manner that breached professional standards. 

In total, a major crime team for South Wales Police gathered 170 statements and 54 child interviews as part of a "full file of evidence".

The inquest in Pontypridd Coroner’s Court will look at what was known about Christopher’s ability to swim, the efforts made to assist him once he had entered the water and the response of the emergency services to reports of the incident. 

Areas likely to be looked into during the inquest hearings include the extent of the search by the emergency services and the deployment of the available resources. 

The scope for the inquest also includes looking into whether resuscitation attempts were commenced immediately upon Christopher being located, and if not, whether earlier commencement of resuscitation attempts would have altered the outcome.

The coroner also wants to establish what was known by the authorities responsible for public safety, as to whether the site was used for swimming by children, and whether any steps were or ought to have been taken to prevent such activity or warn or safeguard those undertaking them. 

The first witness to appear in the inquest was one of the young people who was present during the incident, but he cannot be named due to his age. 

Christopher's body was recovered from the river Cynon

Speaking from a separate room in the court building, the teenager said “it was a grey area” whether Christopher could swim or not. “Chris”, as the witness knew him, was a friend from school and football practice. 

The counsel for the inquest, Mr Leeper, asked the witness how Christopher came to be in the river, to which he replied: “He was pushed”. 

“Do you have a recollection of Christopher in the water?”, Mr Leeper asked. 

“Yes”, replied the witness. 

“What was he doing?” Mr Leeper continued. 

The witness replied to the court, “Kind of like flailing, trying to keep himself above the water… struggling”. 

The witness told the inquest that there had not initially been any panic when Christopher entered the water, but that once it was established he could not swim, other witnesses jumped into the river to try to save him.

The teenager said as far as he could remember, there had been no signs or fencing intended to discourage people from playing on the bridge or swimming in the area. 

The inquest is expected to last up to two weeks.

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