Coroner finds Christopher Kapessa drowned after being deliberately pushed into river

A 13-year-old boy died after being deliberately pushed into a river in South Wales in July 2019 in a “dangerous prank”, a coroner has found.

Assistant coroner David Regan gave the finding on Monday at the inquest into the death of Christopher Kapessa, after a two-week hearing at South Wales Coroner’s Court.

Christopher (pictured), 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.

Four witnesses told the inquest in Pontypridd that another boy, who can now be named as Jayden Pugh after an application by the PA news agency, had pushed Christopher from a ledge into the water.

Mr Pugh, who was 14 at the time and is now 19, told the inquest that he accidentally fell into Christopher, did not deliberately push him in and did not suggest doing so.

However, delivering his conclusions in the case, Mr Regan said: “In my judgment, Christopher was deliberately pushed into the back from behind by Jayden Pugh using his hands.

“Jayden’s actions deprived Christopher of the opportunity to decide whether or not to enter the water. I have no hesitation in finding that Christopher did not consent to being pushed into the river.”

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.

The coroner said: “They acted very courageously in doing so.

“Jayden pushed Christopher into the water in a misplaced sense of fun, namely as a prank.”

Mr Regan described how Christopher fell 2.5 metres from the ledge into the river, into water that was 2.5 metres deep, and had not been able to prepare for his entry.

Christopher’s head became submerged, he is likely to have suffered from cold water shock, which would have led to the involuntary ingestion of water, the coroner said.

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.

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 dangerous prank however, the child responsible for it did not intend to cause Christopher’s death.”

South Wales Police officers were initially told by witnesses that Christopher had fallen into the water. The children were re-interviewed following rumours that he had been pushed.

The force 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 Mr Pugh for allegedly pushing Christopher into the river during a “foolish prank” though there was “evidence to support” a manslaughter 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.

In July 2021, the family won the right to a judicial review of the decision not to prosecute Mr Pugh. However, following a hearing in January 2022, judges at the High Court dismissed the application.

During the inquest, Alina Joseph described racist abuse – including her children being beaten, Christopher being urinated on, and physically dragged by his neck – the family had suffered since moving from London to Wales.

Mr Regan described their experience as “extremely disheartening” and said it was to the family’s credit that despite it, Christopher remained an “active and well-liked member of his community”.

He added: “There has been no suggestion during this inquest that Christopher’s death resulted from a racially motivated act.”

The coroner said there had been previous misreporting of the case, which meant a narrative conclusion was appropriate given the need to clarify what happened.

During the inquest, police described how Mr Pugh had been dubbed a “killer or murderer” on social media, with one campaign linking Christopher’s death to the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

At times, Mr Pugh’s family were moved from the area and police safeguarding measures were put in place to protect them and their home.

Speaking outside the coroner’s court, Ms Joseph paid tribute to her son as “always thoughtful, sensitive and full of hope” and said she knew he would be fulfilling his dreams if alive today.

She said: “Christopher will always be remembered for bringing immense joy and happiness to me and to everyone who he met.”

Ms Joseph criticised the decision-making by South Wales Police and said she did not trust the police due to how her family had been treated.

She said: “They had a biased view of me as a black single mother living in the Valleys.

“The police did not investigate the pattern of racism suffered by Christopher and the family. It was only after I raised concerns that they began to investigate properly.

“I was a victim of the institutional racist practices of South Wales Police. I deserve better.”

She added: “I have not been able to grieve for Christopher. I’ve been forbidden from grieving for Christopher, or mourning his passing.

“The decisions not to prosecute despite evidence is something I wouldn’t wish upon any mother or any family.”

Ms Joseph said Christopher had been pushed without warning and was “unlawfully killed”.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) published its findings into complaints made by Christopher’s family following the inquest.

It said it found “some shortcomings” in the way South Wales Police dealt with Christopher’s family, adding that communications by officers could have been better.

A complaint by Christopher’s family that officers concluded he had died as a result of an accident without proper investigation was not upheld.

Evidence did not suggest the 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.”

Assistant Chief Constable Danny Richards, of South Wales Police, said Christopher’s death had “deeply shocked and affected” many people.

He added: “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 the reasons why Mr Pugh was not prosecuted had been made clear previously.

She added: “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.

“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.”

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