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Coroner to deliver conclusion on death of boy who drowned in river

22 Jan 2024 5 minute read
Christopher Kapessa. Photograph: Family Handout/PA

A coroner is to deliver his conclusion at the inquest into the death of a 13-year-old boy who drowned in a river after allegedly being pushed in.

Assistant Coroner David Regan will give his findings on Monday morning about what happened to Christopher Kapessa following a two-week hearing at south Wales’ Coroners’ Court.

Christopher, described as “loving, caring, passionate and very protective” by his family, died after entering the River Cynon in Fernhill in Rhondda Cynon Taf, South Wales, on July 1 2019.

Witnesses told the inquest in Pontypridd that another boy, then aged 14, had pushed Christopher from a ledge into the water after saying words to the effect of “shall I push him in”.

The boy, now aged 19 and who cannot be named for legal reasons, insisted to the inquest that he accidentally fell into Christopher, did not deliberately push him in and did not suggest doing so.

Christopher, who was not a confident swimmer according to his mother, began panicking and shouted for help.


Other children – including the boy alleged to have pushed him into the river – jumped in and tried to rescue him but Christopher disappeared below the surface at about 5.30pm.

Emergency services attended and Christopher was recovered from the water at 7.25pm. He was later declared dead at the Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr Tydfil.

The inquest heard Christopher was part of a group of friends from Mountain Ash Comprehensive School who arranged to go to a site known as the ‘red bridge’ after finishing lessons that day.

Christopher was seen to remove his top, glasses and sliders before standing on the ledge – throwing stones with two other boys to ascertain how deep the water was.

Killian Haslam, now 18, told the hearing how the boy who cannot be named for legal reasons asked whether he should push Christopher into the water in a “jokey way”.

Another witness, Isabella Watts, now 18, said the boy had “pushed him in”, with his hands going into the middle of Christopher’s back.

But giving evidence, the boy insisted that he “fell into him” after moving quickly across wet and slippery ground from the bridge to the ledge.


When asked by Michael Mansfield KC, representing Christopher’s mother Alina Joseph, whether he had apologised to her for what happened, the boy replied: “No, because I didn’t push him in.”

Three of the teenage boys and one teenage girl jumped in to try to rescue Christopher after he began shouting for help.

Witnesses described how Christopher was panicking and pulling the boys – Killian Haslam, a 17-year-old boy, and the boy accused of pushing Christopher into the river – down as they tried to pull him to safety.

Millie Morgan, now 18, then jumped in and went underneath the surface to look for Christopher but told the inquest the water was “too muddy to see anything”.

The inquest heard how South Wales Police were initially told by witnesses that Christopher had fallen into the water, with no indication of any push or slip.

However, Detective Chief Inspector Matt Powell said rumours then began circulating that Christopher had been pushed and the witnesses were all re-interviewed.

South Wales Police later passed a file of evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to consider bringing charges.

In July 2020, the CPS announced that it was not in the public interest to prosecute the boy for allegedly pushing Christopher into the river during a “foolish prank”.

It said there was no “public interest” to bring a manslaughter case, despite “evidence to support a prosecution”.

Christopher’s mother accused the CPS and South Wales Police of institutional racism, claiming the decision would have be different if her son was white.

Judicial review

In June 2021, the family considered launching a private prosecution against the boy alleged to have pushed Christopher into the river.

They won the right to a judicial review of the decision not to prosecute the boy. However, following a hearing in January 2022, judges at the High Court dismissed the application.

During the inquest, Ms Joseph described racist abuse her family had suffered since moving from London to Wales in the years before Christopher died.

Incidents allegedly included letters of racial hatred through the post, members of the family being beaten, Christopher being urinated on, and being physically dragged by his neck by the mother of another child.

Ms Joseph paid tribute to her son as a keen footballer who was “not only a cheeky boy but also very loving, caring passionate and very protective”.

Detective Chief Inspector Matt Powell, the senior investigating officer, was asked whether racism played a role in Christopher’s death.

He replied: “Neither I or my team uncovered any evidence that racism played a role.”

Mr Powell said there was no evidence that Christopher was “bullied or encouraged to enter the water”, describing how he was “very well respected” by the children who he was “good friends” with.

He claimed there had been inaccurate reporting of the death in media reports and on social media, which included descriptions of the boy alleged to have pushed Christopher as a “killer or murderer”.

The senior officer said a social media campaign linked Christopher’s death to “the terrible murder of Stephen Lawrence”, with such comments affecting the children who were present at the river and their families.

At times, the family of the boy alleged to have pushed Christopher were moved from the area and police safeguarding measures were put in place to protect them and their home.

The inquest into Christopher’s death began on January 8, 2024.

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