The decision not to prosecute a teenager accused of pushing a 13-year-old boy into a river is to be reviewed, a high court judge has ordered.
Christopher Kapessa drowned after he was pushed into the River Cynon in south Wales by a 14-year-old boy in July 2019, but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided not to charge the teenager and described the incident as a “foolish prank”.
Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb ruled that Christopher’s family should be allowed a full judicial review of the CPS decision despite the high threshold for such challenges. She allowed the application on five grounds, including that the CPS decision failed to “properly value human life” and that “undue and improper weight” was given to the impact of the prosecution on the teenage suspect.
Christopher’s mother, Alina Joseph, said the decision not to bring a prosecution was because her son was black and has accused South Wales police and the CPS of institutional racism. The CPS has said race played no part in its decision-making, and that it decided it was not in the public interest to prosecute the then 14-year-old.
Cheema-Grubb said: “Success on review will be achieved only in rare cases. The threshold is necessarily lofty, but no defendant is infallible, and sometimes the supervisory jurisdiction of this court is engaged. To achieve permission, there must be properly arguable grounds with a realistic prospect of success.
“Having had the advantage of hearing argument, I grant permission to apply for judicial review.”
She ordered the CPS to provide a full witness statement on how the decision not to prosecute was reached. Cheema-Grubb also granted the teenage suspect anonymity.
Más temprano, Michael Mansfield QC, counsel for the family, told the court: “No reasonable prosecutor could on the facts of this case decide it was in the public interest not to prosecute.” He added: “It is past the evidential threshold because the allegation here is unlawful act manslaughter which has very particular criteria.”
He said that according to reports at least 16 people were present when the incident took place, and that initial accounts that it was an accident appear unreliable.
He told the court: “At least four of them [the witnesses] decided, either together or apart, that they weren’t going to reveal who did what, let alone what happened. To begin with, it’s ‘he jumps off the bridge’ then it becomes ‘he slipped into the water’.”
Mansfield claimed these initial accounts unduly influenced the police investigation. Mansfield said: “The initial investigation operated entirely on the basis that it was an accident and that Alina Joseph shouldn’t worry about it. That predicated the whole approach to this case that it was tragic, but an accident.”
Mansfield speculated that the parents of the young people involved then “put moral pressure [on their children to] tell the truth. And that’s when it became clear he [Christopher] was deliberately pushed into the water.”
Mansfield also said the teenage suspect had “still not accepted the truth of what happened”. He said questions were raised by the suspect’s statement to the police.
Mansfield told the court: “If this was as the suspect claims, he ran into Christopher and almost accidentally pushed him in the water. If that’s true, then he might have been expected to help rescue. But we don’t see him attempting to retrieve Christopher from the river, and we don’t see any sign of him volunteering himself to the police … We don’t see him apologising. We don’t see him regretting. We don’t see any remorse, nothing.”
Mansfield said not prosecuting the suspect sent an “abhorrent” message to the community. “What message is left with a community – that it’s all right to lie? It’s all right not to disclose? ‘Just hang on in there and they won’t do anything because of your age’?” He said without a prosecution “the rule of law, and also the system of justice, falls into disrepute”.
He also told the court that the day before Christopher was pushed to his death, another young person had tried to push him into the water. He said this context also challenged the assumption that his death was the result of an accident during “horseplay”. Él dijo: “That can hardly be the case if in fact your previous day there had been this attempt to push.”
The initial decision not to prosecute was confirmed in a review carried out by the CPS in July after Christopher’s family lodged an appeal.
Duncan Penny QC, counsel for the CPS, told the high court: “There was a careful consideration of the evidence in the case and of the public interest factors, which the prosecutor identified during the course of her review.”
The CPS will now have 21 days to provide evidence to prepare for the judicial review.
Suresh Grover, the co-director of the anti-racism charity the Monitoring Group, which is supporting Joseph, dicho: “The decision to grant full judicial review hearing is welcome news for the family. The family can start looking forward to attaining justice for Christopher.”