IOPC investigation findings into complaints made by the family of Christopher Kapessa
Following a series of complaints made by the mother of Christopher Kapessa, we carried out a thorough investigation into the actions South Wales Police took after the recovery of Christopher’s body from the River Cynon, where he tragically drowned in July 2019.
Our investigation found some shortcomings in the way the force dealt with Christopher’s family and in particular, that officers’ communication with them could have been better. However, we found no grounds for any disciplinary proceedings to be brought against any of the officers involved.
The complaints included that South Wales Police had concluded wrongly, and within 24 hours, that Christopher’s death was a ‘tragic accident’. His family questioned whether a proper and thorough investigation had been conducted by police and felt they had been treated insensitively because of their ethnicity. They also complained that officers had not answered reasonable questions they had asked.
Our investigation, which began in July 2019, did not uphold the complaint that officers concluded that Christopher died as a result of an accident without a proper investigation. The evidence indicates that comments made at an initial meeting between Christopher’s relatives and officers may have created this impression, which was regrettable. Witness accounts and police logs demonstrated how officers continued to explore hypotheses, undertake enquiries and investigate the incident for a number of weeks and as such, we did not consider that the investigation was prematurely concluded.
Taking into account Christopher’s family’s perception that the investigation into his death had ended prematurely, together with some difficult early exchanges with police officers, it is understandable they held suspicions of racial bias. However, the death investigation was in fact continuing and the evidence gathered in the course of our enquiries does not suggest that Christopher’s family were treated less favourably by the police because of their race.
We found that communication between the force and Christopher’s family could have been better. The officers who attended an initial meeting with the family on 2 July were not well-briefed or best placed to answer their questions. A clear communication strategy at that first visit would have been highly desirable, given the traumatic nature of the incident, the large number of people involved, and the level of community interest.
We upheld one complaint, which centred around another meeting between Christopher’s family and South Wales Police. This descended into a disagreement, when his family voiced repeated concerns about possible racism by the force. We considered that a police officer’s approach at that meeting was ill-judged and insensitive, particularly taking into account the upset and distress the family were experiencing. While we found no disciplinary case to answer, we recommended management action for the officer involved, with additional training on dealing with bereaved families, equality and diversity, and unconscious bias.
In examining each individual complaint, we considered whether South Wales Police followed relevant policies and procedures. We obtained accounts from fifteen officers involved, and their conduct, the progress of the investigation, and police interaction with the family were comprehensively reviewed.
IOPC Director David Ford said: “This was a heart-breaking case in which a 13-year-old boy lost his life and our thoughts remain with Christopher’s family, friends and all those affected by his death.
“After our investigation was completed in February 2021, we provided Christopher’s family with the detail of our findings and explained the reasoning behind the complaint outcomes.
“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.”
“We hope the end of inquest proceedings may help to answer some of the family’s questions around Christopher’s death”.
Issuing our findings from the investigation has awaited the end of an inquest. The coroner recorded a narrative conclusion today (22 January) in Pontypridd.