What happened to Rikki Neave? School boy murder explained, who is James Watson, when is documentary on TV

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The investigation into schoolboy Rikki Neave’s murder, which spanned almost 30 years, is the focus of 24 Hours in Police Custody

James Watson carried out the shocking murder of six-year-old Rikki Neave when he was just 13 years old.

Rikki went missing on 28 November 1994. His mum Ruth reported him missing when he failed to return home from school, and he was found dead the next day

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During the investigation, Ruth, who has branded Watson a “monster” found herself wrongly accused of murdering her son, an allegation she was cleared of after a trial in 1996.

However, she was sentenced to seven years in prison for child cruelty.

Watson was brought to justice after a trial earlier this year, and has now been given a life sentence with a minimum term of 15 years.

The law meant Watson had to be handed a term relevant to his age at the time of the offence.

What happened to Rikki Neave?

The investigation into schoolboy Rikki Neave’s murder has spanned almost 30 years (NationalWorld)The investigation into schoolboy Rikki Neave’s murder has spanned almost 30 years (NationalWorld)
The investigation into schoolboy Rikki Neave’s murder has spanned almost 30 years (NationalWorld) | NationalWorld

Rikki was found strangled and posed naked in a star shape.

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A zip-shaped mark was left on his body after he was allegedly strangled by his own anorak.

He was killed in a “swiftly executed” attack in woods near his Peterborough home.

It was a place where Rikki and his friends used to play and was just a five-minute walk from his home.

His clothes were later discovered dumped in a wheelie bin nearby.

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During the trial, prosecutor John Price QC suggested that Rikki’s last meal of Weetabix put his time of death at around midday on November 28, shortly after he was seen with James Watson.

Mud on Rikki’s shoes indicated he walked into the woods and did not walk out again, the prosecutor said.

James Watson.James Watson.
James Watson. | PA

Who is James Watson?

More than 20 years after Rikki’s murder, DNA from Rikki’s discarded clothes pointed to James Watson, who had been aged 13 at the time.

Watson, 41, had been taken into care after his father, a serving officer with Cambridgeshire Police, was arrested and subsequently jailed, the court was told.

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He could not stay with his mother because of the person she was living with, the jury was told.

During the trial he accepted being seen with the victim on November 28, when both children should have been at school.

Watson told jurors that was the “first and only time” he had met Rikki.

According to a statement given by Watson, he had gone to the Welland Estate and was watching a digger when Rikki approached him at 12.30pm.

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He had stated: “Rikki said ‘that’s a big tractor isn’t it?’ I said ‘it’s not a tractor it’s a digger’.

“I then moved away and asked the workmen what they were doing. Rikki was walking back towards Redmile Walk.”

In a police interview in 2016, Watson attempted to explain his DNA’s presence on Rikki’s clothes by claiming he picked him up to look at diggers through a hole in a fence.

During the trial he said he spent four minutes with Rikki and only remembered years later that he had picked him up during the encounter.

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His former teacher described how he made copies of a front-page story about Rikki’s death.

David Benjamin, who was head of house at Walton school in Peterborough, said Watson did not attend on the day Rikki disappeared.

On November 30 1994, he returned for his first full day in school “for ages”, he said.

That afternoon, he went out to get the local evening paper featuring Rikki on the front page.

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Watson then showed him one of six copies of the front page he had made, saying that they were to display in the children’s home where he was staying in nearby March, Cambridgeshire. The court was told 25 copies were made.

Why did Ruth Neave go to prison?

Ruth Neave was arrested on suspicion of killing Rikki in 1995.

The court heard that a drawing found in Ms Neave’s home wrongly cast suspicion on her.

Police investigating his murder had found a book containing a picture of the famous drawing of Vitruvian Man.

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Prosecutor John Price said: “It was said, as indeed is the case, that in one of its forms, the posture of the image resembles the way her son’s naked body had been posed by his killer.”

Mr Price went on to tell the court that sightings that day showed Ms Neave could not have done it and she was acquitted after a trial.

However, she had admitted child cruelty charges and was jailed for 7 years, and released in 2000.

During Watson’s trial Ms Neave said: “I pleaded guilty because I was bullied into it and I did not know what I was pleading guilty to.”

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What has Rikki’s family said about the verdict?

Rikki’s mother Ruth described her son’s murderer James Watson as a “monster”.

Ms Neave criticised the original investigation and said police and social services “totally ruined mine and my daughters’ lives”.

In a statement, she said: “The only thing now is to close this chapter in my life and open a new one.

“I wonder what Rikki would be like today, married, children? Who knows?

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“But this monster has taken that all from me and my daughters.”

Rikki’s sister Rochelle Neave, 30, hailed the verdict as a “victory” for the family who had campaigned for justice.

She said: “He thought he’d got away with it for that many years and thought we were just going to go away and roll under the table. We weren’t.”

She remembered her brother as a “cheeky” and “loving” boy, who would look after his siblings.

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After the verdict, Rikki’s aunts Sandra Chestney and Alison Harvey, said that “this is a day we feared would never come, 27 years is a long time to grieve without closure”.

In their statement, they said: “Sadly, Rikki’s dad Trevor passed away not knowing what happened to his ‘best boy in the world’, now they can finally both be at peace together.”

In a statement from Ruth Neave read out during the sentencing hearing the mum said: “Rikki’s murder left a massive hole in our lives and in our hearts.

“I miss him so much that it feels like I have had my heart ripped out.”

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What have the police said?

Following the verdict, former assistant chief constable Paul Fullwood, who led the cold case, said Watson is “a fantasist, a dangerous individual, and a compulsive liar”.

Mr Fullwood said: “All the way through this, it’s been a monumental series of challenges. But as far as we’re concerned, we’ve got the right person responsible for the dreadful, dreadful murder of that little boy Rikki Neave.

“Hopefully, we can bring some justice for his family… and also make sure that we put a dangerous individual in prison.”

Hannah Van Dadelszen, deputy chief crown prosecutor for the East of England, acknowledged prosecuting Ms Neave was “wrong”.

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She said: “I am pleased that we have been able to deliver justice for all those who knew and loved Rikki, and I hope that for all those people that does bring a sense of closure to the case.”


Is there a documentary about the case?