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‘Foolish Prank’ or Manslaughter?: Case of UK Teen Pushed Into River In Front of Throng of White Witnesses Revived After Years of No Prosecution

The case regarding a 13-year-old Black boy who drowned after being pushed into a river will be reviewed by London’s Royal Courts of Justice. Smaller courts declared his death an accident, however, his family believes that race played a part in his killing and how his death was investigated.

Christopher Kapessa drowned after getting pushed into the River Cynon near Mountain Ash in South Wales in July of 2019. Within 48 hours of the incident, the South Wales Police declared his death a “tragic accident.”

Christopher Kapessa with his mom (Family photo)

However, later it was revealed that investigators did a poor job securing the scene, interviewing witnesses, and ignoring crucial pieces of evidence like including text messages between the young people, about the Kapessa’s drowning, Voice.Wales reports. Of the 14 to 16 white eyewitnesses, only four were questioned.

Public outrage over his death made headlines and pushed the Crown Prosecution Service to step in to review the case.

Despite identifying a suspect and having evidence of manslaughter, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the agency that prosecutes criminal cases in the United Kingdom after they have been investigated, decided not to charge anyone with the teen’s death.

CPS determined through their own investigation that Kapessa was pushed into the river by another minor. Still, they chose to drop the case because the other kid was a good student with a polished school record and that to pursue the case would not be in the “public’s interest.”

Alina Joseph, Kapessa’s mother, said that the agency would have had a different response “if it was a white child who drowned while surrounded by 14 black youth.”

Two years later, in June 2021, the High Court granted permission for the family to challenge the CPS decision.

On Thursday, Jan. 13, lawyers representing Joseph and her son’s interests told two judges of the Royal Court that the CPS’ decision was “unreasonable or irrational,” Peeblesshire News reported.

“The defendant’s decision fails to properly value human life, specifically the child victim’s life,” attorney Michael Mansfield said to Lord Justice Popplewell and Mr. Justice Dove in filing to the court.

“The defendant fails to give proper regard to the seriousness of harm from the offense,” he added. “Undue and improper weight has been given to the impact of a prosecution upon the future of the offender.”

Mansfield stated the decision undermines the judicial system, making people not trust it. 

There were certain facts laid out before the court, which investigators also had in discovery. One piece of evidence was that Kapessa told the group that he could not swim, and despite that, the suspect pushed him in “deliberately.”

“Christopher drowned and was killed as a result,” Mansfield contends.

He noted that the “suspect,” whom the courts ruled would not be named publicly, is now 17.

“One factor — the youth of the offender — has been given too much weight here,” the lawyer pushed.

“The suspect in this matter is aged 17 presently, but that does not preclude the public interest in accountability for causing a death by unlawful act manslaughter,” he argued. “It would not be ‘disproportionate’ to prosecute a child or young person for the manslaughter he has committed. The youth of the offender is a factor that a criminal court itself may properly take into account when imposing punishment.”

The boy’s mother received written statements from witnesses who were present at his drowning, which disproved early stories that were being pushed that her son had slipped into the river. 

Mansfield told the judges, “This sets out the history of misinformation to her from the investigating prosecutorial authorities since her son’s death and concerning the events: the original source of being told her son had jumped, or had slipped, rather than being pushed appearing to have emanated from the suspect and the untruths spread by him and his immediate friends, including the lies told to the police.”

To add pain to injury, CPS, with knowledge of the rumors and the truth, still decided that Kapessa was “victim of a foolish prank,” the family contends.

Jenny Hopkins, who worked on this case for CPS, stated, “Although there was evidence to support a prosecution for manslaughter it was not in the public interest to prosecute. Christopher’s tragic death occurred after a group of children went out to have fun by the river.”

“The evidence showed that Christopher was pushed into the river as a foolish prank with nothing to suggest that the suspect intended to harm him, although that was the awful consequence,” she continued.

“Factors we took into consideration when reaching our decision included the young age of the suspect who was 14-and-a-half at the time, his lack of a criminal record, and otherwise good character. Significant weight must be attached to the age of a suspect if they are a child or young person under 18.”

She concluded, “In that context, we also considered the impact on his future prospects and that the main aim of the youth justice system is to prevent offending. We also considered the impact of a trial on the other children who were present.”

Throughout the Black Lives Matter global community, thousands have marched in protest and signed petitions to bring justice to the teen. One petition on has over 110,000 signatures.

Over two dozen UK Parliament MPs and four Welsh MPs have signed an Early Day Motion. The “Justice for Christopher Kapessa ” is also supported by the Wales Trade Union Congress (TUC), whose secretary Shavanah Taj was present in the High Court hearing with the family on Jan. 13.

The BBC notes that at the court, it was recognized that if the boy had lived, he would have been 16 years old. Sympathizers lit candles and his uncle Mak King gave remarks.

He said, “Today is a day of memory, the family are so anxious for justice. It has been a very long time — two-and-a-half years — a very long time, the family is waiting for answers and fighting for justice.

“It’s very, very hard to be honest with you, every time the name Christopher Kapessa comes up, everything gets back again,” he continued. “So hopefully today we’ll get answers for our questions so we can tell the family — family here, family back home — and they’ll know the reason why and how Christopher died.”

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