Home   News   Article

Subscribe Now

Man jailed for life for murder of schoolboy Rikki Neave nearly 30 years ago



More news, no ads

LEARN MORE


A man has been jailed for life after being found guilty of murdering six-year-old schoolboy Rikki Neave nearly 30 years ago following one of the most complex investigations ever conducted by Cambridgeshire police.

James Watson, 41, was 13 years old when he strangled Rikki in woodland on the Welland Estate in Peterborough on November 28, 1994.

After murdering him, Watson stripped him and left his naked body posed with legs and arms outstretched, then discarded the boy’s clothing in a nearby wheelie bin.

Rikki Neave, 6, and his killer, James Watson, now 41
Rikki Neave, 6, and his killer, James Watson, now 41

Rikki’s mother Ruth Neave reported him missing at about 6pm that day and extensive searches began, supported by local people.

His body was found in the wooded area off Eye Road, close to Willoughby Court, the following day at 12.05pm. It was a five-minute walk from his home.

A post mortem examination found that Rikki had died as a result of a compression of the neck – strangulation. It is believed he had been strangled from behind using the zip from his coat.

Following the emergence of new DNA technology, Watson, of no known address, was found guilty on April 21 by majority verdict following a trial at the Old Bailey in London.

He was jailed today (June 24) at the same court for life and will serve a minimum of 15 years, minus the 843 days already served.

The sentence took into account he was 13 years old when he committed the murder.

Police tape by woodland on the Welland Estate in Peterborough where Rikki Neave was strangled on November 28, 1994
Police tape by woodland on the Welland Estate in Peterborough where Rikki Neave was strangled on November 28, 1994

The judge, Mrs Justice McGowan, said: “Rikki was described as happy, bright, cheeky and capable of great affection towards his sisters. He never had the chance to grow up, be happy, and lead a normal fulfilling life. That was denied by him by his murderer.

“Equally, his sisters were denied growing up knowing him and having a bond with him. The loss his family have suffered will stay with them forever and no sentence I will pass will ease that suffering.”

She told Watson: “Almost certainly because of family experience Rikki was too willing to trust strangers. He was vulnerable and this was a premeditated crime. Rikki was not necessarily the intended victim, but you had premeditated and spoke about killing a young boy in the same place that Rikki was killed.

“I accept you had a difficult and abusive upbringing, but there is no suggestion you did not understand what you did or the seriousness and criminal nature of your actions.”

James Watson, centre, appearing in the dock alongside prosecutor John Price QC, right, at the Old Bailey in London. Illustration: Elizabeth Cook/PA
James Watson, centre, appearing in the dock alongside prosecutor John Price QC, right, at the Old Bailey in London. Illustration: Elizabeth Cook/PA

The sentencing brings to the end the most complex and comprehensive investigation conducted since Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s Major Crime Unit was introduced in 2012. It is second in this respect only to the Soham murders in the county’s policing history.

Six months after the discover of Rikki’s body - on May 24, 1995 - his mother, Ruth Neave, was charged with his murder and offences of “cruelty”. She later pleaded guilty to cruelty but was unanimously found not guilty of his murder following a trial in October 1996.

Ms Neave, who later moved to the Cambridge area, would later campaign for the case to be reopened.

The investigation was relaunched In 2015 with a new team of officers looking at the case and using forensic techniques not available in 1994, Watson's DNA was found on tape used to take samples from Rikki's clothing.

The coat of Rikki Neave, who was murdered in Peterborough at the age of 6 (57538335)
The coat of Rikki Neave, who was murdered in Peterborough at the age of 6 (57538335)

Watson had been spoken to at the time of the initial investigation as a witness. He had claimed he saw Rikki briefly, but for no more than a few seconds and described no physical contact between them.

In an interview following his arrest in 2016, he changed his account of the meeting with Rikki, claiming he had lifted him up so he could see over a fence to watch a digger at work.

Eventually, he was charged with Rikki's murder on February 17, 2020 – a charge he denied.

[Read more: Family of murdered schoolboy Rikki Neave tell of relief after 41-year-old convicted of his murder 27 years ago]

Former Assistant Chief Constable Paul Fullwood, senior lead for the investigation, said: “Today’s sentencing marks the final chapter in our journey to secure justice for Rikki and his family.

“It has taken a significant period of time to get to this point, but we made a promise that we would find the person responsible for Rikki’s death and it’s a promise we have kept.

Former Assistant Chief Constable Paul Fullwood, senior lead for the investigation into the murder of Rikki Neave (57538320)
Former Assistant Chief Constable Paul Fullwood, senior lead for the investigation into the murder of Rikki Neave (57538320)

“Historical murders are notoriously difficult to investigate, and this case came with significant challenges, but we have used every tool available to overcome those obstacles.

“This result was possible thanks to a committed and hard-working team, closely linked into the Crown Prosecution Service, and the support from Rikki’s family and witnesses involved in the original case.

“Rikki was a kind and cheeky chap who was cruelly taken under the most horrendous of circumstances. His memory lives on through his family, who have to deal with his loss for the rest of their lives. But now they finally have answers, they know what happened and they know who took Rikki from them, and I really hope this gives them some peace.

“For years Watson had hidden away, knowing he was responsible for Rikki’s murder and thinking he had gotten away with it, but that is no longer the case. He will spend years behind bars and the truth is finally out.”

Following the sentencing, Rikki’s family told his murder had “haunted” them.



This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More