Christopher Kapessa: The schoolboy whose life was ended after one fateful push

After more than two weeks of evidence, the inquest into the death of Christopher Kapessa has finished. 

On Monday, the coroner Mr David Regan concluded the 13-year-old died after being deliberately pushed into a river in south Wales in July 2019.

Christopher was with friends in the Fernhill area of Mountain Ash, Rhondda Cynon Taff when he drowned.

The boy ruled to have pushed him 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 death sparked legal challenges all the way to the High Court, and allegations of racism against the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. 

This is the full story of what happened to Christopher, what caused him to end up in the river and the efforts made to save him. 

It is an account based on the witness testimony of the teenagers present that tragic day heard in the inquest, as well as emergency service workers involved with the aftermath and the subsequent police investigation. 

The ‘loving and caring’ teenaged Christopher

Christopher was born at home in London on 6 January 2006. His mother, Alina Joseph, says he loved football from an early age and enjoyed what she described as a normal upbringing featuring “love, discipline, listening and understanding”. 

In 2011, Miss Joseph moved her family to a women’s refuge in Wales, following an experience of domestic abuse.

“There was never a dull moment bringing him up”, she said of Christopher, “He was my treasure”. 

On 1 July 2019 Christopher Kapessa had been home to change after school, and arrived by the River Cynon with a group of friends. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Miss Joseph said Christopher was her fifth child. “He had a close group of friends who stuck to him like glue… he was not just a cheeky boy, but loving, caring and compassionate”. 

Christopher’s mother said the family felt isolated when they moved to the village of Hirwaun in Rhondda Cynon Taf, where they experienced various incidents of alleged racism including serious assault and graffiti. 

Christopher’s mother says no charges were ever brought, and she lost confidence in the police, believing that there was no point in reporting the issues they were experiencing. 

After a fire destroyed their home in Hirwaun, Christopher and his family moved. He started attending Mountain Ash Comprehensive School and playing for the local football team. 

Miss Joseph said Christopher was not a confident swimmer, but the court heard he had taken basic lessons and had no issues with entering the water while on holiday or visiting a swimming pool. 

“He loved being in the water and never had an issue… he did not go in the water if he wasn’t confident”, Miss Joseph said. 

Some of Christopher’s friends were not sure about swimming ability. “It was a grey area”, one witness told the inquest. Another witness, Tyana Chislett, said Christopher had told some of the boys present that day that he could not swim before the incident took place. 

On the day of the incident, Christopher’s friend Killian Haslam said the 13-year-old had been heard oscillating between saying he couldn’t swim and he was scared to go in the river, to boasting that he was better at swimming than anyone else there that day. 

Christopher’s mother Alina Joesph says no charges were ever brought, and she lost confidence in the police. Credit: Family Photo

He was, according to Mr Haslam, just being himself, “having a laugh and joking around”. 

The chaotic few minutes that took Christopher’s life

On Monday 1 July, 2019 the weather was hot and the sun was out. 

A group of Christopher’s friends from Mountain Ash Comprehensive School organised a trip to the river through a social media group chat. 

“We were all jumping in and out all day”, Mr Haslam told the inquest. He saw Christopher take off his t-shirt and glasses, leaving him in just a pair of shorts.

Christopher moved from the so-called “red bridge” to a stone ledge above the river water. “He was contemplating whether to go in or not”, Killian said. 

“Everyone started to encourage Chris to jump in”, Owen Rees, another witness, told the inquest, because he had said he could swim before”. 

According to Mr Haslam’s testimony, it was then that Jayden Pugh, now named as the teenager accused of pushing Christopher into the water, asked him “should I push him?”. 

“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. 

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 some woodland nearby. 

The river where they were playing was deep and murky, and Christopher’s head eventually went under the surface. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

“It suddenly got loud - 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]. 

Another witness, Tyanna Chislet, said: “Everyone thought it was a joke at first and everyone was shouting good things and then [Christopher] started shouting and panicking”.

Miss Chislet, now 18-years-old, told police that Christopher had told some of the boys present that day that he could not swim, including the boy accused of pushing him, Jayden Pugh. 

Two other teenagers present at the incident, including Mr Pugh, also jumped into the water when it became clear that Christopher was panicking. 

“Jayden was the closest to pulling him to the ledge”, 18-year-old witness Millie Morgan said. “Christopher was on Jayden’s back, pulling him under…. I don’t think Jayden could have done any more [to save him]”.

Each of them tried to pull Christopher to safety, but in his panic he was thrashing around and climbing on top of them, forcing their heads under the water. 

When the other boys had to swim to the side to catch their breath, Millie Morgan jumped into the river fully clothed to help.

“Christopher’s head kept going in and out and you could see he was giving up”, she told the court during her testimony. 

“As I jumped in, I think that was the last time his head bobbed up”. 

The river where they were playing was deep and murky, and after bobbing up and down several times, Christopher’s head eventually went under the surface and they lost sight of him. 

Christopher Kapessa and his mum Alina Joseph Credit: Family photo

Another witness, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told the court he’d seen Christopher in the river, “[he was] flailing, trying to keep himself above the water… struggling”. 

Coroner’s Court One was silent as Millie Morgan recounted her brave and committed attempt to save her friend Christopher. Tragically, she was unsuccessful. 

“I looked for him and I couldn't find anything”, she said, “then the police came and I had to get out of the water”. 

What led Chrisopher to end up in the water?

The day before the tragic incident, Christopher had joined a group of his friends to visit the same spot by the river, but he had not entered the water. 

On 1 July he had been home to change after school, and arrived by the River Cynon with the group in shorts, a type of slip-on footwear known as sliders, and a t-shirt. 

“He knew he wanted to go in the river”, 18-year-old Chloe Eggleton remembered when she gave evidence. 

“He said he couldn’t swim and [then] he said he could… we were all telling him not to in case he couldn’t”. 

Miss Eggleton said Christopher was joking around saying he was going to jump in, but once he had moved to the stone ledge above the water, he had then said he did not want to go in. 

The river from above where Christopher entered the water

Another male witness, who cannot be named, told the inquest that Christopher had been sitting with the girls on 1 July, as they were not jumping in and boys were. 

“I knew he couldn’t swim. He used to joke around a lot, but I knew he couldn’t”, the witness said. 

Christopher was still saying he was intending to go in the water, the witness said. “He was intending to jump in. Like, he wanted to, but he knew he couldn’t swim, but you could see he wanted to”. 

The fateful push that led to Christopher's death

What happened next has been in dispute during the inquest. Multiple witnesses say they saw Christopher being pushed in, which the coroner agreed with, but the boy accused of doing that denied it was deliberate.

At the conclusion of the inquest, the boy was named as 19-year-old Jayden Pugh. He had known Christopher for a few months through school.

The teenager, wearing a light grey suit and tie, gave evidence from a different room in the court building, as all the teenage witnesses did during the inquest. 

The witness said he had spoken to Christopher before the incident about his ability to swim. 

“He said to me he can swim, but not very good”, the witness explained. 

Before being asked about the moment at which he is accused of pushing Christopher into the river, the coroner, Mr David Regan, gave him a warning about his evidence. 

“You don't have to answer a question where the answer might incriminate you. If you do answer, you must tell the truth”. 

Asked by Mr Leeper, “Did you tell Killian Haslam that you had pushed him into the river as a joke? 

“No”, the witness replied.   

“How did Christopher end up in the water?”, Mr Leeper asked. 

“I fell into him”, came the reply. 

However, a teenage witness of the incident, who cannot be named, said he’d seen Christopher being pushed in the back by Jayden Pugh. 

“You didn’t see Jayden run down [to the rock where Christopher was sat] and slip into him did you?”, the witness was asked by Christopher’s family’s barrister, Mr Michael Mansfield KC. 

"What I seen was Christopher going into the water by force”, the witness replied. 

Questioning Mr Pugh later in the inquest, Mr Leeper asked: “Immediately before Christopher entered the water did you walk down behind him and push him in the back with the palms of your hands?”

Mr Pugh replied: “No I didn’t”.

He was also asked about the testimony of one of the other witnesses there that day, who had said Jayden had been seen laughing on the stone ledge after Christopher fell in. Mr Pugh said he remembered standing there, but did not remember laughing. 

It was at this point that Christopher’s mother, Alina Joseph, broke down in tears and the hearing was paused while members of her family and legal team escorted out of the room.

Christopher’s friend Killian Haslam told the court of an incident involving Jayden Pugh in the days after Christopher died. 

He said that he had a conversation with Mr Pugh in Brynifor Park near to the river where they’d been on 1 July. 

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

“He said thank you and I asked him why are you saying thank you? And he then told me that he’d pushed him in”, the witness continued. 

Mr Haslam told the courtroom: “I just told [Jayden] that next time I was spoken to by the police I would have to tell the truth and he accepted that. 

“He didn’t want me to lie for him or anything”. 

The emergency services response 

The first call was made to the police at 5:40pm on 1 July, 2019. It’s believed that Christopher entered the water around 5:25pm. 

Paramedic Huw Boscher arrived on scene at 6pm. In a statement read to the inquest, he said he saw numerous teenagers crying and saying their friend had gone into the water.

Mr Boscher waded into the water up to his chest, and then swam in further until he reached the bottom of the river. He said the visibility through the water was “poor”, and he was unable to find Christopher. 

The fire service arrived with specialist equipment like inflatable kayaks, and a police helicopter hovered above. 

It was not until 7:35pm that Christopher was located and pulled from the water to the river bank where a stretcher was waiting. 

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

The Home Office Pathologist who examined Christopher, Dr Stephen Leadbeater, said in his report that waiting to start CPR until they moved Christopher to the ambulance is “Unlikely to have had any impact on survivability”.  

Dr Leadbeater said Christopher is likely to have been submerged for 105 minutes. The court heard no one has survived beyond 30 minutes in water of more than six degrees in temperature.

Christopher’s mother, Alina Joseph, said a police officer came to her home and told her they had found Christopher and she must go to the hospital with them. 

Miss Joseph said in a statement: “Nobody had told me that Christopher had died… until I ascertained that myself. I was asking questions but they were just mumbling”. 

“There are no words to explain how I felt".  

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

The legal challenges since his death

South Wales Police quickly said Christopher’s death was a tragic accident, but the family said that decision was taken too quickly and without conducting a full investigation. 

South Wales Police said its major crime team gathered 170 statements and 54 child interviews as part of a "full file of evidence".

In early 2020, the Crown Prosecution Service told the family there was “sufficient evidence to support a charge of unlawful act of manslaughter" but ruled that was not in the public interest to pursue a conviction on that basis. 

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. 

Following an in investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), South Wales Police said there was no indication that any police officer acted in a manner that breached professional standards. 

Did racism play a part in Christopher’s death?

During the inquest, temporary Chief Inspector Matthew Powell of South Wales Police said he was made Senior Investigating Officer in the Kapessa case on 22 July 2019. 

Asked by the counsel to the inquest, Mr 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.  He made it clear he did not believe Christopher's mother had played any part in misinformation being spread.

“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 replied. 

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

At an earlier hearing, Christopher’s mother, Alina Joseph told the court of numerous examples of serious 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. 

“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.”

During the inquest, the counsel to the inquest, Mr Tom Leeper, asked: “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."

In 2020, during the Black Lives Matter movement, some compared 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, particularly for the family of the teenager accused of pushing him into the river. 

The witness told the court that for short periods, Mr Pugh’s family were moved from the area 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”. 

Christopher's family arriving at court ahead of the coroner's verdict

The coroner’s conclusions

Reading his narrative conclusion, Mr Regan said Christopher had gone to the “red bridge” with friends from Mountain Ash Comprehensive School. Some were intending to jump into the water.

Mr Regan said: “Christopher took with him clothes in which he could swim. He undressed to his shorts and approached the waterside.

“He had not decided whether to enter the water, expressing both a desire to swim and concern due to his limited ability to swim.

“At about 5.25pm, while he was standing by the waterside, he was deliberately pushed into the water by another child, falling 2.5 metres into the water.

“The water was cold and he was unable to touch the bottom and keep his head above the surface.

“Christopher was swiftly in difficulty and thrashing with his arms.

“Children, including the boy who had pushed him, jumped into the water to try and save him but were unable to do so.”

Mr Regan said Christopher was recovered from the water and resuscitation attempts took place but he could not be saved after spending so long under water.

He added: “Christopher died by submersion after being intentionally pushed by another child. The push was a prank however, the child responsible for it did not intend to cause Christopher’s death.”

What happens now?

Christopher’s family still live with the pain of his tragic death, and that will not change following the conclusion of the inquest. 

“He had so much going for him”, his mother Alina Joseph said, “He was at the beginning of his life. 

She said her life will never be the same, and vowed to keep fighting for justice in his name, saying: “Christopher will not let me just sit down”. 

Changes have already been made to the site of the incident since 2019. The bridge was removed in early 2021 and there is no extensive fencing around the area, with signs warning people against swimming. 

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