Mother pays tribute to ‘cheeky little chappie’ after river death

By Kim Pilling, PA

The mother of an 11-month-old boy who died after being found in a river said her “cheeky little chappie” will be the “heart of our family for many years to come”.

Zakari William Bennett-Eko was pulled out of the River Irwell in Radcliffe, Greater Manchester, by firefighters after reports that a child was in the water shortly before 4.25pm on Wednesday.

He was taken to hospital from the scene near Blackburn Street in the town centre but died a short time later.

In a tribute issued on Friday, his mother Emma Blood said: “On Wednesday afternoon my life changed forever. I woke up that morning being a mummy to the most wonderful cute little boy and by the afternoon Zakari was taken from me in the most tragic of circumstances.

“Zakari was my life for 11 months and will be the heart of our family for many years to come.

“He was a cheeky little chappie with a smile that melted hearts. He was the youngest of five generations of our family and was loved beyond belief.

“Zakari wrapped everyone around his little finger. He was a happy and content baby with a gorgeous little smile and a head full of curls. Everyone that met him fell in love with him instantly.

“It’s hard to comprehend what has happened and that I will not get to see my baby grow up to be the handsome decent man I knew he would become.

“My family and I would like to thank everybody for their continued support, it is very much appreciated and would like to ask for privacy at this traumatic time.”

Tearful mourners, many who were mothers with young children, have left flowers, soft toys and candles on the bridge in Blackburn Street.

Emma Blood with her son Zakari William Bennett-Eko (Family Handout/PA)

Among the tributes was a large cuddly bear with a card which read: “To a beautiful little boy. Sleep tight little man. Our thoughts are with your family. From all of us at Lidl Radcliffe.”

One card with flowers read: “Goodnight and God Bless beautiful innocent boy. Fly high Angel.”

Earlier on Friday, Zakari’s father made his first appearance in court accused of the youngster’s murder.

Zak Eko, 22, of no fixed address, was brought from custody to Manchester Magistrates’ Court on Friday.

In a hearing lasting barely a minute, he was flanked by prison officers as he entered the dock and gave his name as Zak Bennett-Eko and confirmed his date of birth.

Eko, wearing a grey top and grey jogging bottoms, was told by Deputy District Judge Vincent McDade that the matter needed to be dealt with in a crown court.

The defendant was further remanded in custody and will next appear at Manchester Crown Court on Monday September 16.