Christopher Kapessa was 'laughing and joking' before allegedly pushed into river, inquest hears

Family photo
The inquest into Christopher Kapessa's death opened on Monday 8 January, more than 4 years after the incident took place and in the week Christopher would have turned 18.  Credit: Family Photo

A schoolboy who drowned in the River Cynon was “laughing and joking around” in the moments before he was allegedly pushed into the water, an inquest has heard. 

13-year-old Christopher Kapessa was with around 15 friends in the Fernhill area of Mountain Ash, Rhondda Cynon Taff in July 2019 when he died. 

The inquest into his death opened on Monday 8 January, more than 4 years after the incident took place and in the week Christopher would have turned 18. 

On Wednesday, the inquest at the Coroner’s court in Pontypridd heard evidence from a witness of the incident which took place by a bridge in an overgrown area by the river. 

Killian Haslam had been a friend of Christopher’s for some months, after meeting at Mountain Ash Comprehensive School where they both attended. 

Mr Haslam said he and their mutual friends used to do various activities together and had been to the same spot by the river at least once before. 

Christopher was “being himself, having a laugh” while sat on what was known as the “red bridge”, Mr Haslam told the court via video link from a different room in the court building. 

“We were all jumping in and out all day”, Mr Haslam said in response to questions from the counsel to the inquiry, Mr Tom Leeper. 

“[Christopher] took everything off like he was ready to go in… like he was going for a swim”, Mr Haslam said. 

Christopher's body was recovered from the river Cynon Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

“What did you know about Christopher's ability to swim?, Mr Leeper asked. 

“I had never seen him in water”, Mr Haslam replied. “He was constantly saying he wanted to go in and he could swim, and then he was saying he was scared and he wasn’t sure if he could and then he was saying he was better at swimming than anyone there - he was just having a laugh and joking around”. 

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

The inquest will also 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. 

Killian Haslam, now 18 years old, told the inquiry that another boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, allegedly asked him if he should push Christopher off the ledge he was sitting on above the river. 

“He gave me the nod like he was going to push him”, Mr Haslam said. “His voice “weren’t loud.. [it was] kind of discrete”. 

“[It was] more jokey, nothing bad, nothing horrible, a little comment that shouldn’t have been made. There was nothing sinister about it, he didn’t mean it in a threatening way”, Mr Haslam continued. 

Christopher Kapessa died after he was allegedly pushed into the River Cynon. Credit: Family Photo

The witness said he had been jumping into the water with others but then got out to dry himself and put his clothes back on in the woodland nearby. 

“It suddenly got loud [from the river] - [and there was] lots of shouting. Not sure if it was good or bad”, he said. 

“I ran back… I was still wearing my wet shorts. Chris was in the water, I just remember jumping in [to rescue him]. 

Other teenagers present at the incident, including the boy accused of pushing him in, also jumped into the water when it became clear that Christopher was panicking. 

The water was deep and murky, and after bobbing up and down several times, Christopher’s head eventually went under the water and they lost him. 

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

Killian Haslam was then questioned by Ms Cat Jones, who represents the boy alleged to have pushed Christopher. 

Asked about his knowledge of Christopher’s swimming ability, the witness said: “He was shouting out loud like he does, he was a very bubbly boy. He said he could swim 1,000 miles, all jokey, then he was acting all nervous and then he said he couldn’t swim, and then he said he could swim again.”

“Did you think he could swim?”, Ms Jones asked.

The inquest opened more than 4 years after the incident took place and in the week Christopher would have turned 18.  Credit: Family Photo

Mr Haslam said: “To be honest I have no idea what I thought, I didn’t know if he was a good swimmer or bad swimmer, I was just going off what he said.”

Another witness, Tyana Chislett, whose evidence was read to the court, said Christopher had told some of the boys present that day that he could not swim before the incident took place. 

During his evidence, Killian Haslam told the court about an encounter he had with the boy accused of pushing Christopher at a nearby park days after the incident.

“He came up to me asking what I’d said in my statement [to the police] and I said Chris had slipped in”, Mr Haslam said. 

“[The boy] said thank you and I was like why are you thanking me? He then told me that he’d pushed [Christopher] in. 

“I just told him that next time I was spoken to by the police I would have to tell the truth and [the boy] accepted that, he said he didn’t want me to lie for him or anything”.  

Christopher Kapessa and his mum Alina Joseph Credit: Family photo

The inquest is looking into the extent of the search by the emergency services and the deployment of available resources. 

The scope of 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 inquest is expected to last up to two weeks.

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