No evidence racism played a role in death of Christopher Kapessa, inquest told
There is no evidence that racism played a role in the death of a 13-year-old boy who drowned in a river after allegedly being pushed in, an inquest has been told.
Christopher Kapessa died after the incident in the River Cynon near Fernhill in Rhondda Cynon Taf, South Wales, on July 1 2019.
Witnesses have told South Wales Central Coroner’s Court in Pontypridd that another boy, then aged 14, had pushed Christopher from a ledge into the water.
The boy, now aged 19 and who cannot be named for legal reasons, has insisted to the inquest that he accidentally fell into Christopher and did not deliberately push him.
Christopher began panicking and shouted for help – with other children jumping in and trying to rescue him before he 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.
Giving evidence on Wednesday, Detective Chief Inspector Matt Powell of South Wales Police said he was the senior investigating officer for the case.
He told the inquest that initial accounts from those present “suggested Christopher had fallen into the water”, with no indication that there had been any push, pull or similar action.
However, rumours began circulating at Christopher’s school and the boy alleged to have pushed Christopher in told his mother he “may have slipped and pushed Christopher into the water by accident”, Mr Powell said.
He added: “There were other accounts that he had pushed Christopher into the water, albeit in the context of child’s play.”
Police re-interviewed those present at the scene, with Mr Powell developing five hypotheses about what happened.
Tom Leeper, counsel to the inquest, asked whether police had found any evidence that bullying may have been responsible for the incident.
Mr Powell replied: “No I didn’t. That became hypothesis five for me, as to whether Christopher was bullied or encouraged to enter the water. I found no evidence of that.
“Certainly no evidence of racism playing a role in him entering the water or any of the events that happened on the riverside.”
Mr Powell said there had been inaccurate reporting of the death, including describing the boy alleged to have pushed Christopher as a “killer or murderer”.
He described a press conference by a group supporting Christopher’s mother Alina Joseph that took place in Butetown, alleging there was evidence parents and children had perverted the course of justice.
“That evidence never existed,” Mr Powell said.
Mr Leeper asked: “Is there evidence of race having played any role in relation to Christopher’s tragic loss on July 1 2019?”
Mr Powell replied: “Neither I or my team uncovered any evidence that racism played a role.”
The senior officer was also asked about a social media campaign which aimed to “obtain justice for Christopher”.
He said: “There were links to the terrible murder of Stephen, that this case was akin to that murder and incidents of police institutionalised racism in the UK.”
When asked if there was any foundation for those assertions, Mr Powell replied: “None at all.”
Mr Powell said he felt those comments affected tensions within the community, with the children who were present at the river and their families feeling “pressure”.
He added: “The particular consequences would be to (the boy alleged to have pushed Christopher into the water) and his family.
“For short periods, at certain times, they were moved from the area. There were police safeguarding measures to help protect them and their home address.”
Mr Powell said he believed there was “potentially a risk to them” as a result of the inaccurate reporting, with that risk continuing into 2023.
David Hughes, representing the boy, asked: “You have told us that you found no evidence that racism played a part in how Christopher came to enter the water.
“Would it be fair to say that it is not only a question of there being no racism but the evidence was that Christopher was positively cherished and valued by the children with him?”
Mr Powell replied: “Christopher was very good friends with them, very well respected by lots of them and someone they found fun to be around.
“I do understand the family’s concern that racism played a role. I could only find that they were good friends in this case.”
The officer agreed that the boy alleged to have pushed Christopher into the water was “distraught” at his death, voluntarily attended interviews and had co-operated with the inquiry.
During the inquest, witnesses have described how the group of school friends from Mountain Ash Comprehensive School arranged to meet at the site after school on July 1 2019.
Some of the group have told the hearing that Christopher was saying both that he could and that he could not swim. He removed his glasses, top and sliders before going to stand on the ledge.
The inquest continues.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.