Christopher Kapessa: Mother of boy, 13, who drowned loses High Court fight over decision not to prosecute

High Court told that Christopher Kapessa was allegedly pushed into the River Cynon by a 14-year-old boy in July 2019

Nadine White
Monday 24 January 2022 16:27
Mother of boy, 13, who drowned calls High Court decision not to prosecute 'crippling'

The mother of a 13-year-old boy who died after being allegedly pushed into a river has lost a High Court fight over the decision not to prosecute a teenager accused of being responsible.

Christopher Kapessa was allegedly pushed into the River Cynon near Fernhill, Rhondda Cynon Taff, by a 14-year-old boy in July 2019, a High Court hearing was told.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided that a prosecution was not in the public interest despite, campaigners say, there being “overwhelming” evidence of the teenager’s manslaughter.

Christopher’s mother, Alina Joseph, who is from the Cynon Valley, took High Court action against the Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill, who heads the CPS.

Two judges on Monday ruled against the bereaved mother, who immediately condemned the court’s decision.

She said that the criminal justice system had put the welfare of the alleged suspect “over the life of Christopher and my family”.

Ms Joseph continued: “I am not driven to seek justice because I am grief-stricken or because of personal vendetta. I am purely seeking justice according to the law because the law tells me that I have the right to fair treatment, what is morally right and so I seek to understand what exactly happened to my son.

“To date I nor my family have been given the opportunity; we need answers and deserve them without delay”.

Barrister Michael Mansfield QC, who led Ms Joseph’s legal team, argued the decision not to prosecute the suspect, who is now 17, was “unreasonable or irrational”.

Lawyers representing the CPS had argued that Ms Joseph’s challenge should be dismissed.

Alina Joseph

Judges heard that a number of youngsters were at the river in July 2019 and were told that Christopher had expressed concern about his lack of swimming ability.

Mr Mansfield said the alleged suspect had “pushed” Christopher “deliberately” and that he had been killed as a result.

He said Christopher and his family had been “relatively new” to the area and were a black family living in a predominantly white community.

Duncan Penny QC, who led the CPS legal team, had told judges that the decision at the centre of the case had been taken by Moira MacDaid, a specialist prosecutor.

Ms MacDaid had concluded, after a review, that the original decision not to charge the suspect with manslaughter was correct, he said.

Mr Penny said Ms MacDaid had considered all relevant evidence with “scrupulous fairness”.

He said her decision that a public interest test “was not met” was neither irrational nor “undermined by any error of law”.

In the ruling, Lord Justice Popplewell said Christopher had lived with his mother and six brothers and sisters. The youngster had “a wide group of friends and was popular”.

“On the day in question, some 16 of these friends – all aged 13 or 14 – were playing in and around an area known as the Red Bridge over the Cynon river,” said Lord Justice Popplewell.

“Some of the boys were jumping into the river; others in the group were sitting chatting.”

The judge said Christopher was “prevaricating” about jumping in. A boy was then “seen to push him in the back, causing him to fall into the river”.

Christopher immediately got in to difficulty and the boys, including the one who pushed him, jumped in to help.

Lord Justice Popplewell added: “However, they were unable to assist him as he kept pulling them under water in panic, and tragically he drowned.”

The judge went on: “Christopher’s family believed this to be a racially motivated hate crime as Christopher was black and all the other children present were white.

“Ms MacDaid gave careful consideration to this suggestion … concluding that there was no evidence to support it.

“There is no challenge to that aspect of her decision.”

Mr Justice Dove said he agreed with Lord Justice Popplewell’s conclusions.

Judges said the “suspect” could not be named in media reports. The teenager was identified only as “Q” in the ruling

Daniel Cooper, solicitor representing Ms Joseph, said: “This is a very disappointing decision for my client. We are considering the judgment and will decide with her on next steps.”

Suresh Grover, coordinator of the Justice Campaign, described the “perverse” decision as “a cruel blow for all of us”.

“It is also a bitter reflection of the prevalence of racism inequality in the Criminal Justice System,” he said.

“The perverse judgement disregards Christopher’s right to life and gives more weight to inconvenience that may be suffered by the suspect if he was tried.

“How is that just and fair? The alarm bells have been rung forcing us to redouble our efforts to support Alina’s quest for justice.”

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