James Watson: who is Rikki Neave’s killer, what is jail sentence and why was Ruth Neave a murder suspect?

The case will be examined in a new episode of Channel 4’s 24 Hours in Police Custody

The second part of a real life crime documentary series will show how officers brought the man who murdered a young child to justice.

Tonight’s episode of Channel 4’s 24 Hours in Police Custody, which follows the work of police teams across the country, will reveal how officers came to suspect James Watson had killed six-year-old Rikki Neave in Peterborough in 1994.

So, just who is James Watson and who was his young victim, Rikki Neave, and when can you watch the programme?

Here’s what you need to know.

Who is James Watson?

James Watson, now aged 41, of no known address, was sentenced for the murder of Rikki Neave on 24 June at the Old Bailey, London.

At the time he killed Rikki, who was aged 6, Watson was 13.

For over 20 years after the killing, which happened in 1994, Watson was not caught.

He was not brought to justice until a team from Cambridgeshire Constabulary decided to re-investigate the case in 2015.

Watson was spoken to at the time of the killing in the initial investigation as a witness.

He claimed he saw Rikki briefly, but for no more than a few seconds, and did not say any physical contact had taken place between them.

When he was interviewed again following his arrest in 2016, Watson changed his account of the meeting with Rikki.

He claimed at that time that he had lifted the little boy up so he could see over a fence to watch a digger at work.

Following the investigation, Watson was charged with Rikki’s murder on February 17 2020, although he denied the charge.

On April 21 2022, Watson was found guilty by majority verdict following a trial at the Old Bailey in London.

Rikki Neave's killer James Watson.Rikki Neave's killer James Watson.
Rikki Neave's killer James Watson.

What sentence was James Watson given?

Watson was sentenced to life imprisonment at the same court on June 24, with a minimum term of 15 years, minus the 843 days already served.

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

What is known about James Watsons’ history?

During the trial more details about Watson and his life were revealed.

He living at a children’s home at the time of Rikki’s murder, and was regarded by social services as a vulnerable child.

He could not stay at home after his father, who had previously been a Cambridgeshire police officer, was arrested and jailed.

Watson admitted a string of crimes from the age of 13 in court, however he continued to insist he did not murder Rikki.

A string of witnesses during the trial also described Watson’s behaviour as a youth.

Allegations included that he indecently touched a boy of five who was a friend of Rikki Neave, was suspected of masturbating over images of young children and repeatedly put his hands round the neck of a teenage girl during sex.

Watson’s former girlfriend, who cannot be identified for legal reasons,  told jurors how they met at a children’s home at the age of 14.

She said h would take a survival kit, including a knife, when they went into woods for sex four or five times, jurors heard.

The woman said: “When James got excited towards the end, at the end part, he would have his hands on my neck and leave marks on my throat, more than once.”

She added that she had thought he was “trying to strangle” her.

Watson had also lived at another children’s home in March, Cambridgeshire, between November 1994 and August 1995.

The then-manager Jean Larkin, told jurors that she found magazines under his bed relating to children, toddlers and babies under his bed.

Earlier, the court heard of a complaint to police about an incident involving Watson and a five-year-old friend of Rikki’s from April 1993.

Reading an agreed fact, prosecutor John Price QC said that the child’s mother had reported that her son had told her that Watson had touched his penis.

When the boy was spoken to, he said that he and Watson had touched each other.

Watson denied touching the boy when he was interviewed in the presence of a social worker, explaining that he had shown him how to “shake” himself after urinating.

Watson was told by police at the time that the incident “would not be going any further although it would be held on records”, the jury was told

Who was Rikki Neave, and what happened to him?

Rikki was a six-year-old boy who went missing shortly after he left his home on the Welland Estate, in Peterborough, while he made his way to school on 28 November 1994.

His body was found in woodland just off Eye Road, which is just a five-minute walk from his home, the next day.

He had been stripped of all of his clothes and left posed with his legs and arms outstretched in a star shape.

His clothes were later found discarded in a nearby wheelie bin.

A post-mortem examination concluded that Rikki had died as a result of compression of the neck, and it is believed that he had been strangled from behind using the zip on his coat.

Why was Rikki’s mother, Ruth Neave, a suspect?

Rikki’s mother, Ruth Neave, was originally charged with his murder around six months after his death, following allegations of child abuse.

Ruth was cleared of Rikki’s murder by a jury who found her unanimously not guilty in October 1996.

She had, however, pleaded guilty to child cruelty offences before the trial and was sentenced to seven years in prison for those crimes.

How can I watch 24 Hours in Police Custody episode about the murder?

The second part of 24 Hours in Police Custody: The Murder of Rikki Neave, airs tonight (Tuesday 5 July) at 9pm on Channel 4 and All 4.

The first episode, which aired on Monday 4 July at 9pm, is available to watch on All 4 now.

The second episode will be available to watch on All 4 shortly after broadcast also.