Alina Joseph’s son, Christopher Kapessa, died in 2019. She is still searching for justice.
Editor’s note: This story is part of CNN’s commitment to covering issues around identity, including race, gender, sexuality, religion, class and caste.
Cardiff, Wales — Alina Joseph needed a change of scene. Looking for more space for her seven children, fresher air, and a new job, she moved her family from the bustling area of north London where she had lived for most of her life, to the South Wales valleys.
Once there, the family labored to fit in, but Joseph, 40, said it didn’t take long for their fresh start to become toxic. At first, they lived in the small — and largely White — village of Hirwaun. “They called us the only Blacks in the village,” bus driver and single mom Joseph recalled.
Six years after the move to Hirwaun, they moved eight miles down the Cynon Valley, to the Fernhill Estate in Mountain Ash, a terraced, public housing development. But their life was about to take a tragic turn.
One hot July afternoon in 2019, Joseph’s 13-year-old son, Christopher Kapessa, told her he was going to play football with friends. He never came home.
Hours later, rumors began to spread in the close-knit community that something had happened to her son in the nearby river. Kapessa’s older sister heard from friends that Kapessa, who could not swim, may have jumped into the water; others alleged that he had been pushed.
Kapessa drowned in a river in Mountain Ash, Wales. The police came to her home that afternoon and searched it, telling Joseph that Christopher was missing and they needed to check if he was hiding in the house, she told CNN. Hours later, at around 7 p.m., an officer told her they had found Christopher and they needed to take her to the local hospital.
Once she reached the hospital, Joseph realized that her sweet, bespectacled “cheeky boy” was dead. He had drowned in the River Cynon, near a bridge a mile from their home.
There was no time for Joseph to grieve — instead her shock quickly turned into anger when she says it became clear that the scene had not been cordoned off, and that her son’s belongings were missing.
When she asked a South Wales Police officer for answers the day after Kapessa’s death, she said the force appeared to have come to the conclusion that her son had slipped into the river. She said the officer told her she needed “to accept the fact (that) Christopher died as a result of a tragic accident.”
That was not the case. “It was a homicide,” Suresh Grover, director of the Monitoring Group, an anti-racism charity that is helping Joseph, told CNN.
Grover said police bungled their initial investigation into Kapessa’s death. The force failed to cordon off the scene during its two-day investigation, and only interviewed four out of more than a dozen witnesses, he said.
In a statement to CNN, South Wales Police Assistant Chief Constable Jenny Gilmer said the force had referred itself to the police regulator, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) “who have examined the initial response and investigation into Christopher’s death.”
“While we await the findings of the IOPC investigation to be published, at the start of the investigation, based on initial information available, the IOPC found no indication that any police officer may have acted in a manner that breached professional standards,” she said.
Kapessa is seen in family photos kept by his mother.
A trophy Kapessa received while playing for the Mountain Ash Junior Football Club.
‘You can almost get away with taking a Black child’s life’ After the Monitoring Group helped Joseph make a formal a complaint against the police, the force’s major crimes unit investigated the case, interviewed all the witnesses, and provided evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the agency responsible for criminal prosecutions in England and Wales. CNN has reviewed the complaint and made extensive efforts to interview members of the tight-knit community about the incident.
The CPS said in 2020 that Kapessa had been pushed into the river while playing with a group of 16 children. He was the only Black child there, said Grover.
Despite having a “realistic prospect of conviction for manslaughter,” the CPS decided it was “not in the public interest to prosecute” the suspect. It said Kapessa’s death was the result of a “foolish prank, with nothing to suggest that the suspect intended to harm him.”
The statement added that the suspect’s age (he was 14 at the time), “good character,” and there being “no suggestion that the suspect would commit further offences,” played into the decision not to prosecute him.
“The seriousness of the incident and its impact on Christopher’s family has to be balanced against the guidelines which state that the best interests and welfare of the child or young person must be considered,” it said. “A prosecution and conviction will have a significantly detrimental effect on the suspect’s education, employment and future prospects.”
Joseph believes the decision reflects “institutional racism” in South Wales Police and the CPS. The CPS has denied any racial bias, saying last year that “as part of the public interest, prosecutors are reminded that it is more likely that prosecution is required if the offence was motivated by prejudice, including on the grounds of race.”
“There was nothing in any of the statements of the young people which suggested any racial issues or that this was a hate crime,” it added.
A sign warning people to keep away from the river and the old mining grounds is seen near the spot where Kapessa died.
Evidence showed Kapessa was pushed into the river, according to the Crown Prosecution Service, but no one was prosecuted in his death.
A spokesperson for South Wales Police said the decision not to prosecute was made by the CPS, not South Wales Police. The spokesperson also pointed to the force’s “significant investments in training and education, including diversity, equality and inclusivity training” to “ensure that our officers and staff understand topics such as Black Lives Matter, white privilege and disproportionality.”
But activists say the CPS’s decision not to prosecute sets a dangerous precedent. Dorothea Jones, co-director of the Monitoring Group, told CNN it suggests “that Black life is cheap, and it is not important; you can almost get away with taking a Black child’s life.”
“There would have been a totally different outcome if there had been 14 Black teenagers (playing that day) and a White teen had died,” she said.
The local Member of Parliament, Labour’s Beth Winter, has championed Joseph’s cause. “There are three words that encapsulate why I felt I had to support (her): Truth, justice and reconciliation,” she told CNN. “I feel strongly that unless due process is followed, the truth of the situation for all parties concerned will never be established.”
A Black boy was pushed to his death. His mom says it was more than a ‘prank’
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