Christopher Kapessa pushed into river in a 'dangerous prank' before he died - coroner

Christopher Kapessa died after being deliberately pushed into a river in south Wales in July 2019, a coroner has found in a narrative conclusion.

At the conclusion of the two-week inquest into the 13-year-old’s death in July 2019, Mr David Regan lifted reporting restrictions on the teenager accused of the push. 

He has now been named as 19-year-old Jayden Pugh, who was 14 at the time of the incident.

Mr Regan told the packed court that he rejected Mr Pugh’s account that he slipped and fell into Christopher, because no other child witness has recounted that version of events. 

“Christopher was deliberately pushed in the back using his hands”, Mr Regan concluded, “I am not satisfied that Christopher would have entered the water if he wasn’t pushed”. 

However, Mr Regan also concluded that there was no evidence that he intended to cause any harm to Christopher. He said it is his view that the push by Mr Pugh was done through a “misplayed sense of fun… namely as a prank and not with any malicious intention”. 

Christopher's body was recovered from the river Cynon

Christopher fell 2.5 metres from a stone ledge by the River Cynon, into water that was approximately 2.5 metres deep. 

The coroner said Christopher was unable to prepare for his entry into the water, and almost certainly suffered the effects of cold water shock. 

In his closing remarks as part of a narrative conclusion, Mr Regan said Christopher died by submersion when intentionally pushed by another child into the River Cynon. 

“The push was a dangerous prank. However, the child who pushed him did not intend to cause Christopher’s death and himself jumped into the river with others to try to save him”. 

The coroner said that on the basis of the facts of the case he had determined, he could not come to a conclusion that Christopher’s death was an accident, and neither could he conclude it was an unlawful killing. 

Christopher Kapessa was with a group of friends playing near the water in Fernhill, Rhondda Cynon Taff, when he entered the water.

The group of teenagers eventually lost sight of Christopher under the murky river water. After police arrived, Christopher was eventually found and rushed to hospital but was later pronounced dead. 

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

The coroner, Mr David Regan, was asked conclude whether, if caused by another person, if Christopher’s death was the result of a deliberate act, an accident, or another reason.

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

The teenager accused of pushing Christopher into the River Cynon before he drowned in 2019 told the inquest that he “fell into him”. 

Pugh denied that he had deliberately walked up behind the 13-year-old and pushed him back with the palms of his hands. 

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

The scope of the inquest also included 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.

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

His 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 and his mum Alina Joseph 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.

The senior police officer investigating Christopher's death told the inquest his team found no evidence to suggest that racism played a role in the incident. 

In a statement outside South Wales Central Coroners’ Court, Alina Joseph described her son Christopher Kapessa as “always thoughtful, sensitive, full of hope”.

She said: “I cherish the memories of my son who was an incredible young boy. Christopher will always be remembered for bringing immense joy and happiness to me and to everyone who he met.“

She added: "Christopher would have celebrated his 18th birthday in January of this year.

"It was difficult watching other children do normal things that Christopher wanted to do.

"I wonder every day what he would look like now – the only image I’ve got of him at the age of 13 – and what he would have been doing. I know he would have been fulfilling his dreams and aspirations.He would still be cheeky and making us all laugh."

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".

Assistant Chief Constable Danny Richards of South Wales Police issued a statement following the conclusion of the inquest into the death of Christopher Kapessa.

He said: “The tragic death of Christopher Kapessa deeply shocked and affected many people in the local community.

“Our thoughts remain with his family and friends who have had to re-live the terrible tragedy through the recent inquest proceedings.

“South Wales Police made a referral to the Independent Office for Police Conduct who have examined our initial response and investigation into the circumstances surrounding Christopher’s death.

“We hope that this independent scrutiny and the outcome of the inquest proceedings will give us a greater understanding of the issues which have been raised about this case.”

Jenny Hopkins, Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS Cymru Wales, said:  “Christopher’s death was an unimaginable tragedy and our thoughts remain with his family.

“Each case is different and the CPS's role is to make an independent assessment on whether to bring a prosecution, not to determine the innocence or guilt of a suspect."

He added: "We have always made clear the reasons why our test was not met to charge anyone in connection with this heartbreaking case. Our decision that a prosecution was not in the public interest was considered and upheld as lawful by the Administrative Court in 2022."

The police watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), has published its findings into complaints made by the family of Christopher Kapessa.

In a statement, the IOPC said it found “some shortcomings” in the way South Wales Police dealt with Christopher’s family and said communications by officers with them could have been better.

It said it did not uphold a complaint by Christopher’s family that officers concluded he had died as a result of an accident without proper investigation.

The IOPC also said evidence did not suggest Christopher’s family were treated less favourably by police because of their race.

One complaint was upheld, relating to a meeting between Christopher’s family and South Wales Police in which one police officer was “ill-judged and insensitive”.

The IOPC said there was no disciplinary case to answer but recommended management action for the officer involved, with additional training on dealing with bereaved families, equality and diversity, and unconscious bias.

David Ford, director of the IOPC, said: “While it is clear that aspects of communication with Christopher’s family could and should have been handled better by South Wales Police, we found no evidence to justify bringing any disciplinary proceedings against individual officers.

“We shared with the force areas for potential learning and improvements, which centred on communicating appropriately with bereaved families. Clearer communications from the outset may have provided greater clarity for Christopher’s family at a time when they needed it most.

“In addition, we recommended a review of force policies and guidance concerning sudden death investigations. South Wales Police accepted and implemented our recommendations.”

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