Police chief in Christopher Kapessa probe says there was no evidence of racism during incident

Family Photo
Christopher Kapessa

The senior police officer investigating the death of Christopher Kapessa in the River Cynon has told an inquest his team found no evidence to suggest that racism played a role in the incident. 

The 13-year-old boy drowned in the Fernhill area of Mountain Ash on July 1, 2019. 

Coroner David Regan will conclude whether Christopher’s death was the result of a deliberate act or an accident following the completion of evidence at the Coroner's Court in Pontypridd.

On Wednesday morning, temporary Chief Inspector Matthew Powell of South Wales Police gave his evidence to the inquest. He was made senior investigating officer in this case on July 22, 2019. 

Chief Inspector Powell told the court he had five working hypotheses about what had happened to Christopher. 

Asked by the counsel to the inquest, Tom Leeper, if racism had been found to be a feature of the incident, Chief Inspector Powell said: “No it didn’t… [There was] certainly no basis of racism in him entering the water or the facts on the riverside.”

Chief Inspector Powell told the court there were a number of inaccurate reports put into the public domain, largely through social media.  

“Was there any inaccurate reporting in relation to the issue of race playing a role?” Mr Leeper asked. 

“I believe there was, yes, for many months”, Chief Inspector Powell said. 

Christopher’s family moved to Wales in 2011 and after initially living in Pontypridd, soon moved to Hirwaun, Rhondda Cynon Taf.

At an earlier hearing, Christopher’s mother Alina Joseph 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 to her property. She said despite reporting the incidents, police took no further action. 

“While living in Hirwaun the children especially experienced so much negative and horrific treatment from other members of the community and at times we all felt very isolated because of such treatments,” Miss Joseph said in a written statement read to the court.

“It was very difficult because the children wanted to play outside of the house and most of the time it ended up bad for my children.”

On Wednesday, Mr Leeper continued questioning Chief Inspector Powell, asking him: “Is there any evidence of race playing any role in relation to Christopher’s tragic loss?”

Chief inspector Powell said: “Neither me or my team uncovered any evidence of racism playing a role.”

The senior investigating officer said he had been aware of a social media campaign linking Christopher’s death with the Black Lives Matter movement. Chief Inspector Powell said some people were comparing Christopher’s death to that of Stephen Lawrence, who was the victim of a racially motivated murder in 1993. 

Mr Powell said he believes this campaign for justice for Christopher led to increased tensions in the community of Mountain Ash, causing issues for many witnesses, but particularly for the family of the teenager accused of pushing him into the river, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

The witness told the court that the teenager’s family were moved from the area for short periods, and police safeguarding measures were put in place to protect them and their home. 

Mr Leeper said: “Was there a risk to their wellbeing as a result of inaccurate reporting?”

Chief inspector Powell said: “Yes, I believe there was a potential risk to their wellbeing”. 

As well as assessing if Christopher’s death was the result of a deliberate act or an accident, 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 in relation to children swimming at the site, 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 conclude at the end of this week.