Our website is made possible by displaying online advertisements to our visitors. Please consider supporting us by whitelisting our website.

Rikki Neave’s sister blames their abusive mother for his death

Rikki Neave's sister blames their abusive mother for his death 2

Ricki Neave’s sister still blames their abusive mother for his death – despite sex offender James Watson being convicted of his murder yesterday. 

After 36 hours and 31 minutes of deliberation, a jury convicted Watson, 41, of killing six-year-old Rikki, who was found strangled in woodland in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, in November 1994. 

Rikki’s body was found posed naked in a star shape by Watson, who would have been 13 at the time of the killing and whose father lived on the same estate as Rikki.

However, the tragic six-year-old’s sister Rochelle says she still holds their mother – who beat and neglected Rikki – accountable for his death. 

Reacting to the verdict, she said: ‘Even though she didn’t strangle him, she still let a six-year-old on the streets alone and she neglected him. All she was interested in was drugs and men and drink.’ 

She added: ‘I can’t stand her. I can’t even look at her. The things that she’s put us through and our poor brother, how he’s been treated, how he was murdered.’

Yesterday’s decision comes 26 years after Rikki’s mother Ruth Neave was cleared of her son’s murder by a jury at Northampton Crown Court following a high-profile 16-day trial.

She later admitted child cruelty in relation to a number of incidents throughout Rikki’s short life, including grabbing Rikki around the throat, pushing him against a wall and lifting him up. 

Ms Neave was jailed for seven years in October 1996. Today, speaking after the verdict, she described her son’s murderer as a ‘monster’.

Rochelle proclaimed the verdict a ‘victory’ for justice and for her murdered brother, who she described as ‘loving, caring and cheeky’.

Speaking after today’s long-awaited verdict, she said: ‘He was so loving, so caring towards us. He would do anything,’

‘If there was no food in he would go to the shop, nick it, come back and feed us.

‘He would make sure we were clean. He would run a bath. He was so clean, he loved being clean.’

Sheradyn (left) and Rochelle Neave, the sisters of murdered schoolboy Rikki Neave, speaking to the media at a hotel in the Midlands. Rochelle says she still holds their mother - who beat and neglected Rikki - accountable for his death

Sheradyn (left) and Rochelle Neave, the sisters of murdered schoolboy Rikki Neave, speaking to the media at a hotel in the Midlands. Rochelle says she still holds their mother – who beat and neglected Rikki – accountable for his death

Giving evidence to the jury, Watson denied having a sexual interest in children and denied any involvement in Rikki's murder or disappearance. However he was found guilty by majority verdict of 10 to two today. Judge Mrs Justice McGowan is now expected to adjourn before sentencing Watson on a later date

Watson is seen above when he was a child

Giving evidence to the jury, Watson (pictured left and, right, as a child) denied having a sexual interest in children and denied any involvement in Rikki’s murder or disappearance. However he was found guilty by majority verdict of 10 to two today. Judge Mrs Justice McGowan is now expected to adjourn before sentencing Watson on a later date

Rikki (pictured) was found in woodland in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, on November 29, 1994

It also comes 26 years after Rikki’s mother Ruth Neave was cleared by a jury at Northampton Crown Court of her son's murder. She did, however, later admit child cruelty and was jailed for seven years

Rikki (pictured left) was found in woodland in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, on November 29, 1994. His mother, Ruth Neave (right), was cleared by a jury at Northampton Crown Court of her son’s murder

When abusive mother Ruth Neave (pictured above with her son in the late 1980s) was found not guilty of her son's murder in 1996, the question of who did kill little Rikki would remain unanswered for more than 25 years

Neave at her son's funeral

When abusive mother Ruth Neave (pictured left with her son in the late 1980s and right at his funeral) was found not guilty of her son’s murder in 1996, the question of who did kill little Rikki would remain unanswered for more than 25 years

Rikki is pictured with his father Trevor Harvey. Harvey ended his relationship with Rikki's mother when his son was aged three

A beaming Rikki during his short life

Rikki is pictured left with his father Trevor Harvey. Harvey ended his relationship with Rikki’s mother when his son was aged three. Right: A beaming Rikki during his short life

Rochelle said it was a ‘victory’ that Watson had been found guilty of murder ‘because 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 added.

She was the last member of the family to see Rikki alive and she was three when he left their home in his school uniform. 

She said: ‘The last time I saw Rikki he leant over the [Moses] basket to say goodbye to Sheradyn [then aged six months] and she grabbed him around his stomach. I remember arguing with him, telling him he smelt. Then he left for school.’

Rochelle said: ‘I called her but she is an alcoholic so she was just screaming and shouting down the phone.’

She continued to push for Rikki’s case to be re-opened and said she faced death threats. However, during her search, she stumbled across seven previously unknown half-sisters and brothers.

She said: ‘We are all in contact now, a proper family. I wish Rikki was with us, he would be so happy.’

Rikki Neave’s murder: A timeline of how the tragic case unfolded over nearly 30 years

November 22 1994: James Watson, aged 13, moves from foster care to a children’s home called Woodgates in March, Cambridgeshire, which is 20 miles from Peterborough.

November 25 1994: Watson allegedly phones his mother to ask about a fictional young child being found dead in woods.

November 28: Rikki eats Weetabix for breakfast at around 9.30am and leaves home but never arrives at school. He is seen with Watson by residents in the morning. At 6pm, Ruth Neave, his mother, reports him missing. Police arrive at her home on Redmile Walk at 6.17pm.

November 29: At 12.05pm, Rikki is found dead in woods near the estate. He is naked and his body posed in a star shape. A post-mortem examination concludes he has been strangled with the zip of his anorak hood.

November 30: At 9.30am Rikki’s missing clothing is found by a police officer in a wheelie bin in Willoughby Court.

December 5: Watson gives a lying account when he is interviewed by police as a witness.

January 19 1995: Ms Neave is arrested on suspicion of the murder and interviewed.

May 24: She is charged with the murder of her son and offences of cruelty, to him and two of his sisters.

October 1996: Ms Neave goes on trial at Northampton Crown Court and is unanimously acquitted of murder. The prosecution wrongly allege she killed Rikki at home and then wheeled him in a buggy to the woods after reporting him missing. She pleads guilty to child cruelty and is jailed for seven years.

1999: Rikki’s stepfather Dean Neave dies in a car crash.

2015: A cold case review is launched into Rikki’s unsolved murder.

June 11 2015: A press release highlights ‘major forensic and technological developments in the past 20 years’.

February 2016: A DNA match to Watson is identified from tapings of Rikki’s clothes and he is designated as a suspect. In police interviews, Watson changes his account and introduces the suggestion he may have picked up Rikki to look at diggers through a hole in a fence.

2018: A victim’s right to review is launched into an initial decision by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) not to prosecute Watson.

October 2019: A reviewing CPS lawyer reaches a decision that Watson should be prosecuted.

February 17 2020: Watson is charged with the murder of Rikki. However, he challenges the legality of the extradition process used to bring him back from Portugal to face trial.

February 2022: Watson goes on trial at the Old Bailey for Rikki’s murder.

April 21 2022: Watson, now 41, is found guilty by a majority verdict of 10 to two by a jury at the Old Bailey.

The horrific murder sparked national outrage at the time, less than two years after the abduction, torture and brutal killing of two-year-old James Bulger in Merseyside. 

Watson’s web of lies and constantly changing alibis which helped him evade justice for 28 years mean much about the murder still remains unclear – including whether he knew Rikki prior to the killing.

However jury members heard how Watson’s DNA was found on adhesive tapings on Rikki’s clothes, and that Watson’s posing of the six-year-old’s naked body was an act carried out for his own sexual gratification.

In a statement following the verdict, his mother Ms Neave 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?

‘But this monster has taken that all from me and my daughters.’

She praised jurors for making the ‘right decision’ and thanked ‘people that believed in me and Rikki’.

‘This is not the time to celebrate, as it should never have happened,’ said Ms Neave.

She described police and social services in the original investigation as ‘framing me for my son’s murder’.

‘Neglect and cruelty were used by these people to cover their own failings, information was gathered from liars, who gave multiple statements with many different versions of their lies,’ she said.

‘Statements were released to the media and I was not allowed to defend myself because of a gagging order from social services, so anyone could say anything and get away with it.’ 

After Ms Neave’s 1996 child abuse conviction, Rikki’s murder remained a mystery for a further 20 years, until new evidence came to light in 2015.

Jury members at the Old Bailey heard how Watson was arrested after sophisticated technology found a ‘definitive match’ between his DNA profile and samples taken from Rikki’s clothing after a new investigation was opened into the case.

Watson fled the country on a ferry at Dover in June 2016, before eventually consenting to his extradition from Portugal two months later.  

Jury members in the three-month-long trial at the Old Bailey in London heard how Watson wrapped the collar of Rikki’s blue anorak around the younger boy’s throat from behind him, pulling tightly for at least 30 seconds, in order to kill him.

They were also told how Watson – a convicted arsonist with ‘morbid fantasies’ and a ‘sexual interest’ in small children – had molested a five-year-old child a year before the murder and throttled a girlfriend during sex.

Wearing grey trousers, with a light shirt and shirt tie Watson, now 41 years old, remained seated in a conference room at HMP Belmarsh with his hands clasped together, showing no emotion as a jury foreman read out the long-awaited verdict. 

Meanwhile, a statement on behalf of Rikki’s late father, Trevor, sister Rebecca and extended paternal family, said: ‘We would like to sincerely thank everyone involved who have worked tirelessly, patiently and with commitment to ensure the conviction of James Watson for the murder of our Rikki.

‘This is a day we feared would never come, 27 years is a long time to grieve without closure. Taking its toll on the whole family then and now.

‘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.’

Clare Forsdike, a senior crown prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service, said the verdict had finally brought ‘just for Rikki’, almost three decades after his death.

 ‘The conviction of James Watson for killing Rikki Neave concludes an appalling unsolved crime almost 30 years after it happened. It brings justice for Rikki.

‘It has been like a jigsaw puzzle with each piece of evidence not enough by itself but when put together creating a clear and compelling picture of why James Watson had to be the killer.

The majority verdict comes after 41-year-old Watson (pictured here in a court sketch) - who would have been 13 at the time of the killing - stood trial at the Old Bailey in London

The majority verdict comes after 41-year-old Watson (pictured here in a court sketch) – who would have been 13 at the time of the killing – stood trial at the Old Bailey in London 

Jury members today convicted James Watson of killing the six-year-old, whose body was found stripped naked in woodland in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, in 1994

Jury members today convicted James Watson of killing the six-year-old, whose body was found stripped naked in woodland in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, in 1994

Rikki Neave's sister blames their abusive mother for his death 3

‘Ultimately a combination of evidence from DNA, post mortem, soil samples, eyewitness testimony, and his changing accounts proved overwhelming.

‘Only James Watson knows why he did it. He remained silent for two decades and then put Rikki’s family through the agony of a trial. I hope the verdict gives some consolation to all those who love and miss Rikki Neave.’

Jury members had previously heard how Rikki was found in woodland in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, on November 29, 1994, stripped naked and left in a ‘star pose’. 

The ‘fantasist’ and ‘compulsive liar’ who evaded justice for Rikki Neave’s murder for nearly 30 years: Who is James Watson?

James Watson is ‘a fantasist, a dangerous individual, and a compulsive liar’, according to police.

Watson came from a broken home in Peterborough and was treated by social services as a ‘vulnerable child’ from March 1993.

That year, he was interviewed about a complaint that he had sexually assaulted a five-year-old boy.

Then aged 12, Watson denied it and no further action was taken, although years later he admitted it was ‘just two boys playing with each other’s penises’.

In April 1994, Watson told a family member he was physically assaulted by his father, James Watson senior, who he lived with on the Welland Estate.

On being taken into care, he stayed with foster mother Molly Donald, who he formed an attachment to.

She found him with a shotgun and felt she could not cope so Watson was sent away again, this time to Woodgate’s children’s home in March, some 20 miles from Peterborough.

Watson frequently played truant from school and would change into civilian clothes, jurors heard.

From enrolling at Walton School in Peterborough to the day of the murder, Watson was marked present on the register 18 times out of a possible 38 school days.

At the age of 13, he became obsessed with the fantasy of strangling a little boy, even telling his mother he had heard a news report about it on the radio.

Three days later, the fantasy came true when he murdered six-year-old Rikki Neave at around midday on November 28 1994, the prosecution said.

He stripped him naked for his own sexual gratification, ‘exhibiting’ the posed body to be found near a children’s den in the woods, prosecutor John Price QC said.

Afterwards, Watson became ‘fascinated’ by his own actions and made copious copies of newspaper stories, jurors were told.

He even told teachers that he knew Rikki as the brother of a friend, one of a multitude of lies.

Watson ‘cursed’ the fact he been seen with Rikki by an elderly lady, leaving him no option but to admit an encounter when police called on December 5 1994.

Watson’s account was peppered with lies but went unchallenged for more than 20 years as police wrongly pursued Rikki’s mother Ruth.

Meanwhile, care workers noted his bizarre behaviour, masturbating over a children’s clothes catalogue, keeping a dead pheasant in his room, and once allegedly throttling a member of staff with a stocking.

He moved to another care home, and despite knowing he was gay from an early age, formed a relationship with a girl, aged 15.

In 2016, she told police Watson once killed and posed a bird and would strangle her when they had sex in woods.

Watson clocked up a long list of convictions for petty crimes, including setting fire to a British Transport Police station in Peterborough.

In his evidence, Watson said he would steal cars for ‘fun’ and claimed he felt aggrieved at police because of their role in taking him away from his family.

He also claimed his late father had been a police officer, although Cambridgeshire Police say there is no record of it.

Mr Price told jurors that in the years before his arrest for Rikki’s murder, Watson became forensically aware and adept at dealing with police.

So even before police confirmed his DNA had been identified on Rikki’s clothes, Watson was prepared with another lie, which was to prove his undoing.

Watson, who maintained his connection with Peterborough through his sister Clair and mother Shirley, concocted a fictitious story about lifting Rikki up to look through a hole in a fence to watch diggers.

He did not factor in the determination of police, who established the fence was not there in 1994.

When Watson fled the country, his sister Clair Perna tried to get him travel documents but insisted they were only to help him return to Britain.

Ms Perna told jurors their late father had been a lorry driver, but quickly added that she thought he was a police officer before she was born.

She said her brother would never hurt a child, but was in the dark about his admitted sexual activity with a five-year-old.

Unbeknownst to her, for 27 years Watson had also lived with the biggest secret of all – Rikki’s murder.

 

His death became a story of huge national interest, coming just 20 months after the tragic James Bulger case. 

It was originally thought that Rikki could have been killed in a similar case to that of tragic James, who was abducted, tortured and murdered, aged 2, by 10-year-old boys, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, in Kirkby, Merseyside, in 1993.

Ms Neave then became the key suspect, and was charged with her son’s murder in 1996.

But the trial hinged on the evidence of a policeman who searched the woods where Rikki would later be found.

At the time he found nothing, with prosecutors claiming the officer had initially missed the body because it was dark.

It was claimed the body had been washed of vital evidence in the time it took to find it.

A judge ordered a jury to acquit Ms Neave if they believed his testimony, because it meant she would not have time to have moved the body after that point because the police were already with her.

After being found not guilty of murder at trial, she later admitted cruelty towards her son.

Earlier in Watson’s trial the court heard Ms Neave say she had been ‘bullied into’ pleading guilty to the abuse charge and ‘did not know’ what she was pleading guilty to.

The prosecution heard that Watson, a child from a broken home, had murdered Rikki in the woods before midday on November 29.

Rikki had been heading to his school, Welland Primary School, that morning, alone, having had a bowl of Weetabix earlier this morning.

Watson, the court heard, who was living at Woodgate’s Children’s Home at the time of the killing, was likely to be bunking off from Walton School in Peterborough on the same day. 

The court heard that Watson knew the Walton estate well as he had spent time there as a young child and his father still lived there.

It is believed he and Watson met on that day, with witnesses telling the jury they saw the pair walking in the direction of the woods, where Rikki would later be murdered. Watson then returned to Woodgates Children’s Home that afternoon. 

John Price QC told jurors at his Old Bailey trial: ‘We suggest the evidence has been placed before you to enable you to finally resolve who it was who did it.

‘We ask you to declare by your verdict that it was James Watson who murdered Rikki Neave.’

The prosecutor said that while the case was ‘circumstantial’, there was ‘no ‘only’ about it’, adding: ‘Circumstances do not lie.’

Mr Price 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 Watson.

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

Mr Price gave jurors a detailed analysis of alleged ‘ghost sightings’ of Rikki later that day, saying those witnesses were ‘mistaken’.

Watson was interviewed during the original investigation into the murder but ‘did not mention’ to police that he had physically ‘picked up’ Rikki on the day he died.

But Watson’s lawyers called defence witnesses who all claim to have seen Rikki on the evening of 28 November.

Local man Stuart Duffy, who was known locally as ‘Jingle Bells’ because he used to wear bells on his boots, insisted he saw and spoke with Rikki that Monday evening.

In her closing speech Jenni Dempster, QC, defending Watson, told the jury there were several routes to reaching a not guilty verdict.

The first was for the prosecution to establish Watson’s guilt while the second was the ‘wealth of evidence’ suggesting Ruth Neave was responsible for Rikki’s death.

Ms Dempster said the evidence that the prosecution have against Watson ‘does not even approach’ the level required for the jury to be sure he was the killer.

For the third route she referred to evidence about the ‘sightings’ of Rikki and said of the defence witnesses: ‘If any one of those sightings might be correct then James Watson must be not guilty.’

Former PC Robert McNeill earlier told jurors he searched the woods just after 7:30pm on the evening of November 28.

He claimed Rikki’s body was ‘absolutely not’ on the path where he was ultimately found.

Ms Dempster said: ‘If that is right… the prosecution case is upended and James Watson must be acquitted. You must be sure James Watson killed Rikki Neave.’

But she added: ‘If you think James Watson was in the woods with Rikki Neave then you will go ahead and convict but we submit that the evidence doesn’t begin to reach that level.’

‘We now know did a sort of deal with the prosecution. The prosecution now say we made a terrible mistake, we should never have charged her (with murder).’  

Ms Dempster suggested she admitted child cruelty to spare jurors of the ‘full horror’ of her treatment of her children and maximise her chances of being acquitted of murder.

‘Given her acquittal it turned out to be a very highly effective strategy.’ 

Ms Dempster said the CPS has had ‘literally years’ to assess the evidence but ‘despite our trial involving dozens of witnesses we are actually no further forward in establishing what happened to Rikki on November 28, 1994.

The prosecution heard that Watson murdered Rikki in the woods before midday on November 28 before returning to Woodgates Children’s Home that afternoon. Pictured: A graphic showing the movements of Rikki Neave before his death in 1994

The prosecution heard that Watson murdered Rikki in the woods before midday on November 28 before returning to Woodgates Children’s Home that afternoon. Pictured: A graphic showing the movements of Rikki Neave before his death in 1994

The jacket Rikki was wearing when he was killed was recovered from a wheelie bin close to where his body was found

The jacket Rikki was wearing when he was killed was recovered from a wheelie bin close to where his body was found 

The copse in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, where the body of six-year-old Rikki Neave was found in November 1994

The copse in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, where the body of six-year-old Rikki Neave was found in November 1994

Jury members had previously heard how Rikki was found in woodland in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, on November 29, 1994, stripped naked and left in a 'star pose'. His death became a story of huge national interest, coming just years after the tragic James Bulger case.

Rikki had been heading to his school, Welland Primary School, that morning, alone, having had a bowl of Weetabix earlier this morning

Jury members had previously heard how Rikki (pictured left and right) was found in woodland in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, on November 29, 1994, stripped naked and left in a ‘star pose’. His death became a story of huge national interest, coming just years after the tragic James Bulger case. Rikki had been heading to his school, Welland Primary School, that morning, alone, having had a bowl of Weetabix earlier this morning

However, prosecutor John Price QC set out a detailed version of the events of November 28, 1994 that would end with Rikki’s savage murder. 

He told jurors that the pair were seen walking from the city’s Welland Estate. 

‘It was a sunny late autumn day and they were going to a place both of them knew well and both had visited many times before, at least during daylight — they were going to the woods,’ he said. 

‘Some time after the two boys arrived in the wood, from behind and without warning James Watson ambushed Rikki Neave and strangled him to death using a ligature, whether it was the collar of the jacket Rikki was wearing or something applied on the collar.

‘Rikki was wearing the jacket when he died and it was still zipped up because the zip left a telltale mark on his neck.

‘James Watson then stripped the child’s body. He had an abiding sexual interest in small children which he had already acted on in the previous year, an interest reinforced with a morbid fantasy about the death of a child known to have been on his mind as recently as three days earlier.’ 

Mr Price said one of Rikki’s shirt buttons came off and was placed on a nearby leaf as Watson ‘did whatever he was doing’.

Watson then posed Rikki’s body ‘much as he did with a dead bird’ he killed months later, jurors heard.

He then took Rikki’s clothes and dumped them in the bin, the court was told.

Afterwards, Watson became ‘fascinated by the consequences of his own act’, copying newspaper stories on Rikki’s death, Mr Price said.

But when he talked to teachers he did not reveal he had been with Rikki that day, only mentioning it to police when they called days later, the court was told.

His account was not questioned or challenged for more than two decades, during which time Watson acquired a ‘considerable amount of forensic experience’, Mr Price said.

Before police told him about the DNA link to Rikki’s clothes, Watson had prepared an explanation — that he had picked him up to look through a hole in a fence, Mr Price suggested.

The prosecutor said: ‘He would tell them how, all these years later, the memory of the little boy peering through the hole in the fence still made him chuckle when it came to his mind.’

That was, Mr Price said, Watson’s ‘really big mistake because it never occurred to him all these years later it would be possible to conclusively prove that the high fence was not there’ on the day Rikki was murdered.

The court had heard how Watson had come from a broken home in Peterborough and was treated by social services as a ‘vulnerable child’ from March 1993.

That year, he was interviewed about a complaint that he had sexually assaulted a five-year-old boy.

Then aged 12, Watson denied it and no further action was taken, although years later he admitted it was ‘just two boys playing with each other’s penises’.

In April 1994, Watson told a family member he was physically assaulted by his father, James Watson senior, who he lived with on the Welland Estate.

On being taken into care, he stayed with foster mother Molly Donald, who he formed an attachment to.

She found him with a shotgun and felt she could not cope so Watson was sent away again, this time to Woodgate’s children’s home in March, some 20 miles from Peterborough.

Watson frequently played truant from school and would change into civilian clothes, jurors heard.

From enrolling at Walton School in Peterborough to the day of the murder, Watson was marked present on the register 18 times out of a possible 38 school days.

At the age of 13, he became obsessed with the fantasy of strangling a little boy, even telling his mother he had heard a news report about it on the radio.

Cards and toys that Rikki Neave had in his pockets at the time of his death.A man who strangled six-year-old Rikki Neave has today been found guilty of murder

Cards and toys that Rikki Neave had in his pockets at the time of his death.A man who strangled six-year-old Rikki Neave has today been found guilty of murder

Pictured: A policeman leaving flowers at Welland County Primary School in Peterborough, the school of murdered six-year-old Rikki Neave in 1994

Pictured: A policeman leaving flowers at Welland County Primary School in Peterborough, the school of murdered six-year-old Rikki Neave in 1994

The Daily Mail's original report of when Ruth Neave was found not guilty of her son's murder. It noted how care workers involved in the case had been suspended

The Daily Mail’s original report of when Ruth Neave was found not guilty of her son’s murder. It noted how care workers involved in the case had been suspended

Three days later, the fantasy came true when he murdered six-year-old Rikki Neave at around midday on November 28 1994, the prosecution said.

He stripped him naked for his own sexual gratification, ‘exhibiting’ the posed body to be found near a children’s den in the woods, prosecutor John Price QC said.

Afterwards, Watson became ‘fascinated’ by his own actions and made copious copies of newspaper stories, jurors were told.

He even told teachers that he knew Rikki as the brother of a friend, one of a multitude of lies.

Watson ‘cursed’ the fact he been seen with Rikki by an elderly lady, leaving him no option but to admit an encounter when police called on December 5 1994.

Watson’s account was peppered with lies but went unchallenged for more than 20 years as police wrongly pursued Rikki’s mother Ruth.

Meanwhile, care workers noted his bizarre behaviour, masturbating over a children’s clothes catalogue, keeping a dead pheasant in his room, and once allegedly throttling a member of staff with a stocking.

He moved to another care home, and despite knowing he was gay from an early age, formed a relationship with a girl, aged 15.

In 2016, she told police Watson once killed and posed a bird and would strangle her when they had sex in woods.

Police at the scene where the body of six-year-old murder victim, Rikki Neave, was found in undergrowth less than 500 yards from his home

Police at the scene where the body of six-year-old murder victim, Rikki Neave, was found in undergrowth less than 500 yards from his home

Watson clocked up a long list of convictions for petty crimes, including setting fire to a British Transport Police station in Peterborough.

In his evidence, Watson said he would steal cars for ‘fun’ and claimed he felt aggrieved at police because of their role in taking him away from his family.

He also claimed his late father had been a police officer, although Cambridgeshire Police say there is no record of it.

Mr Price told jurors that in the years before his arrest for Rikki’s murder, Watson became forensically aware and adept at dealing with police.

So even before police confirmed his DNA had been identified on Rikki’s clothes, Watson was prepared with another lie, which was to prove his undoing.

Watson, who maintained his connection with Peterborough through his sister Clair and mother Shirley, concocted a fictitious story about lifting Rikki up to look through a hole in a fence to watch diggers.

Pictured: Parents in 1994 escorting their children to Welland County Primary School, Peterborough, where six-year-old Rikki Neave was a pupil

Pictured: Parents in 1994 escorting their children to Welland County Primary School, Peterborough, where six-year-old Rikki Neave was a pupil

He did not factor in the determination of police, who established the fence was not there in 1994.

When Watson fled the country, his sister Clair Perna tried to get him travel documents but insisted they were only to help him return to Britain.

Ms Perna told jurors their late father had been a lorry driver, but quickly added that she thought he was a police officer before she was born.

She said her brother would never hurt a child, but was in the dark about his admitted sexual activity with a five-year-old.

Unbeknownst to her, for 27 years Watson had also lived with the biggest secret of all – Rikki’s murder.

How Rikki Neave’s killer almost got away with it: Murder-obsessed teenager kept dead pheasants in his room and masturbated over children’s clothes and then fled to Europe as net closed after police found his DNA in cold case review in 2015 

By Rory Tingle, Home Affairs Correspondent for MailOnline

A petty criminal who lied about being a policeman’s son was today found guilty of murdering schoolboy Rikki Neave, finally bringing the killer to justice after nearly 30 years.

James Watson, 40, a convicted arsonist with ‘morbid fantasies’ and a ‘sexual interest’ in small children, strangled Rikki, six, before leaving his naked body in a star shape in woodland in Peterborough in 1994. 

Watson had long evaded the authorities before a cold case review in 2015 used new scientific techniques to identify his DNA on Rikki’s clothes, which had been dumped in a wheelie bin near the murder scene.

It gave a chilling new context to disturbing behaviour that had included keeping a dead pheasant in his room and being caught pleasuring himself over kids’ clothing.

After he had murdered him, Watson made photocopies of the Peterborough Evening Telegraph with the front page dominated by a picture of a smiling Rikki as sick trophies.

When police questioned him following the breakthrough Watson – who the trial was told was gay and HIV positive – implicated himself by mistake.

He tried to explain away the DNA being there by claiming he had helped Rikki up to peer over a fence at some diggers – but detectives knew there had never been a fence at the time of the murder.

After the appalling killing between November 1998 and October 2008 Watson was convicted of a series of crimes, including carrying a loaded air rifle in public, engaging in sexual activity in a public lavatory, and stealing from his father’s house while his dad was in hospital.

He also had theft and burglary convictions – 17 for theft, eleven for burglary.

In 2009, he forced entry to an unmanned British Transport Police station, stole equipment and set it on fire.

The killer, who grew up in care, absconded following his arrest over Rikki’s death in 2016 by taking a ferry to the Continent, and would go on to taunt police by sharing a string of holiday photos from Portugal showing him drinking beer, sun-bathing and even posing nude. 

James Watson, 40, was today found guilty of murdering schoolboy Rikki Neave nearly 30 years ago. He is pictured in 2016 after fleeing to Europe following his arrest

James Watson, 40, was today found guilty of murdering schoolboy Rikki Neave nearly 30 years ago. He is pictured in 2016 after fleeing to Europe following his arrest

Watson fled the UK in a mobile home, boasting to a friend: 'The best thing is I don't even have a passport. I just walked out of our country'

Watson fled the UK in a mobile home, boasting to a friend: ‘The best thing is I don’t even have a passport. I just walked out of our country’ 

Watson boasted in one message: ‘The best thing is I don’t even have a passport. I just walked out of our country. 

‘Me and a mate left the UK in a mobile home. Booked it on the ferry, drove on and that was that. No checks, nothing.’ 

But his plans to flee to Thailand soon collapsed, and he sent emails to his probation officer begging to be helped back home after he ended up homeless and wandering the streets of Portugal. 

On July 14, he contacted his probation officer by email telling them he wanted to return to the UK.

The next day, Watson’s probation officer replied: ‘Whereabouts are you? How can we support you getting back to the UK?’

Watson wrote back: ‘I am in a world of sh**, I left with that Collin under the assumption that he was going to Thailand and I could see a bit of Europe for a few days.

‘It never turned out like that.

‘Now I am homeless and living on the streets in Europe.

Watson strangled Rikki, six, before leaving his naked body in a star shape in woodland in Peterborough in 1994

Watson strangled Rikki, six, before leaving his naked body in a star shape in woodland in Peterborough in 1994

‘I stayed in a room with some people I met but that was not long term now I don’t know what my next plan should be?

The probation officer referred the matter to the police.

Detective Sergeant Gan Thayanithy sent an email to Watson that same day.

On August 2, Watson was arrested in Lisbon at the Consulate building, he consented to the extradition and he returned to the UK ten days later.

Two years later in April 2018, Watson was convicted of a sexual assault in which he briefly touched the penis of a man over his clothing while he was asleep.

Watson said he intended to do this, but he woke up ‘completely disgusted with myself’. 

Watson’s trial heard disturbing details about his fascination with murder and dead animals, with a former girlfriend telling how he once killed a sparrow with a stone.  

Watson had long evaded the authorities before a cold case review in 2015 used new scientific techniques to identify his DNA on Rikki's clothes, including this jacket

Watson had long evaded the authorities before a cold case review in 2015 used new scientific techniques to identify his DNA on Rikki’s clothes, including this jacket

Rikki's clothes and shoes (pictured) had been dumped in a wheelie bin near the murder scene

Rikki’s clothes and shoes (pictured) had been dumped in a wheelie bin near the murder scene

A white shirt worn by Rikki, who was stripped naked and deliberately posed in a star shape after his death

A white shirt worn by Rikki, who was stripped naked and deliberately posed in a star shape after his death

A small pair of sock worn by the six-year-old schoolboy, who was killed in a 'swiftly executed' attack

A small pair of sock worn by the six-year-old schoolboy, who was killed in a ‘swiftly executed’ attack

The muddy trousers recovered from the scene after being dumped into a wheelie bin a short distance from Rikki's body

The muddy trousers recovered from the scene after being dumped into a wheelie bin a short distance from Rikki’s body

Watson’s half-brother, Andrew Bailey, was friends with Rikki’s stepfather Dean Neave, and took Watson to visit the Neave family home ‘a couple of times’ when he was aged 11 or 12. 

Mr Bailey went on to ‘distance’ himself from Watson after he told him he was gay at the age of 11. 

In 2016, Watson admitted to sexually assaulting a five-year-old boy in April 1993, when he was 12.

Asked why he kept a dead carcass of a pheasant at the children’s home, he said he was ‘against animal cruelty’ but found the iridescence of pheasant feathers ‘fascinating’. 

Watson’s defence depended on casting doubt on the evidence he murdered Rikki and suggesting the child’s abusive mother, Ruth, had been responsible instead. 

However, Ruth was cleared of her son’s murder 26 years ago, and today the jury in Watson’s case found there was enough evidence to convict him.  

Prosecutor John Price QC set out a detailed version of the events of November 28, 1994 that would end with Rikki’s sexually motivated murder. 

Mr Price told jurors that the pair were seen walking from the city’s Welland Estate. 

‘It was a sunny late autumn day and they were going to a place both of them knew well and both had visited many times before, at least during daylight — they were going to the woods,’ he said. 

Watson's defence had depended on casting doubt on the evidence he murdered Rikki and suggesting the child's abusive mother, Ruth, had been responsible instead

Watson’s defence had depended on casting doubt on the evidence he murdered Rikki and suggesting the child’s abusive mother, Ruth, had been responsible instead 

Watson's trial heard disturbing details about his fascination with murder and dead animals, with a former girlfriend telling how he once killed a sparrow with a stone

Watson’s trial heard disturbing details about his fascination with murder and dead animals, with a former girlfriend telling how he once killed a sparrow with a stone

The killer - who grew up in care and was described as 'vulnerable' - is pictured as a child

The killer – who grew up in care and was described as ‘vulnerable’ – is pictured as a child 

‘Some time after the two boys arrived in the wood, from behind and without warning James Watson ambushed Rikki Neave and strangled him to death using a ligature, whether it was the collar of the jacket Rikki was wearing or something applied on the collar.

‘Rikki was wearing the jacket when he died and it was still zipped up because the zip left a telltale mark on his neck.

‘James Watson then stripped the child’s body. He had an abiding sexual interest in small children which he had already acted on in the previous year, an interest reinforced with a morbid fantasy about the death of a child known to have been on his mind as recently as three days earlier.’ 

Mr Price said one of Rikki’s shirt buttons came off and was placed on a nearby leaf as Watson ‘did whatever he was doing’.

Watson then posed Rikki’s body ‘much as he did with a dead bird’ he killed months later, before taking Rikki’s clothes and dumping them in a bin. 

Afterwards, Watson became ‘fascinated by the consequences of his own act’, copying newspaper stories on Rikki’s death, Mr Price said.

But when he talked to teachers he did not reveal he had been with Rikki that day, only mentioning it to police when they called days later, the court was told.

Rikki was murdered near his home in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire on December 5, 1994 and his body was dumped in some nearby woods, circled

Rikki was murdered near his home in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire on December 5, 1994 and his body was dumped in some nearby woods, circled

His account was not questioned or challenged for more than two decades, during which time Watson acquired a ‘considerable amount of forensic experience’, Mr Price said.

Before police told him about the DNA link to Rikki’s clothes, Watson had prepared an explanation — that he had picked him up to look through a hole in a fence, Mr Price suggested.

The prosecutor said: ‘He would tell them how, all these years later, the memory of the little boy peering through the hole in the fence still made him chuckle when it came to his mind.’

That was, Mr Price said, Watson’s ‘really big mistake because it never occurred to him all these years later it would be possible to conclusively prove that the high fence was not there’ on the day Rikki was murdered.

In a police interview in April 2016, Watson admitted to sexually assaulting a five-year-old boy in April 1993, when he was 12.

Asked about the admission at his murder trial, the killer pleaded ignorance. Later, he broke down and tearfully told the court: ‘I’m a complete a***hole’. 

Rikki Neave’s mother blasts ‘monster’ who killed her son: Parent who was cleared of murdering six-year-old she treated ‘like punch bag’ in 1996 blasts police and social services as real culprit is finally brought to justice 

Harry Howard, History Correspondent for MailOnline

Rikki Neave’s mother – herself convicted of mistreating him – blamed police and social services for ruining her life today – suggesting their focus on her left the real killer free for decades.

Ruth Neave brutally mistreated her son in the miserable years leading up to the six-year-old’s slaying in 1994, but was cleared of murdering him after a jury trial two years later.

But today, 40-year-old James Watson, who was 13 when Rikki disappeared, was convicted at the Old Bailey of his murder – seven years after new evidence was found in a ‘cold case review’.    

Ms Neave described her son’s murderer James Watson as a ‘monster’.

She 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?

‘But this monster has taken that all from me and my daughters.’    

Watson was arrested after sophisticated technology that was not available in the original investigation found a ‘definitive match’ between his DNA profile and samples taken from Rikki’s clothing. 

A constant theme in his trial was Ruth Neave’s appalling maltreatment of her son, along with the shocking circumstances of abuse and neglect that he grew up in.

Neave, who is now believed to be living with her new husband, Gary Rodgers, in a flat in Cambridgeshire, complained in 2019 of ‘living under a cloud’ since her son’s death, as she begged police to ‘find the real killer’. 

Ruth Neave - seen with her husband, Gary Rodgers - brutally mistreated her son in the miserable years leading up to the six-year-old's slaying in 1994, but was cleared of murdering him after a jury trial two years later

Ruth Neave – seen with her husband, Gary Rodgers – brutally mistreated her son in the miserable years leading up to the six-year-old’s slaying in 1994, but was cleared of murdering him after a jury trial two years later

When abusive mother Ruth Neave (pictured above with her son in the late 1980s) was found not guilty of her son's murder in 1996, the question of who did kill little Rikki would remain unanswered for more than 25 years

Neave at her son's funeral

When Neave (pictured left with her son in the late 1980s and right at his funeral) was found not guilty of her son’s murder in 1996, the question of who did kill Rikki would remain unanswered for more than 25 years

Although she was found not guilty of murder, Neave – described in Watson’s trial as a ‘wholly unfit mother’ who used Rikki as a drug runner and ‘punch bag’ – had admitted to child cruelty was sentenced to seven years in prison. 

She was eventually released from Holloway in 2000.  

On one occasion, she allegedly left Neave screaming after locking him out of the house in his pyjamas. 

In another incident, she held her son upside down on a bridge as he screamed, the jury heard. 

Neave complained in 2019 of 'living under a cloud' since her son's death, as she begged police to 'find the real killer'

Neave complained in 2019 of ‘living under a cloud’ since her son’s death, as she begged police to ‘find the real killer’

She had also grabbed the child around his throat, pushed him against a wall and lifted him up ‘to the point his feet were about a foot above the ground’.

At the time of his death, Neave was living with Rikki and his two younger sisters on the 1970s Welland Estate in Peterborough. The older sister, Rebecca, who was aged eight at the time of his death, was living in foster care.

Neave’s ex, Trevor Harvey, had ended their relationship when Rikki was three. 

The family were well known to local social services, the court in Watson’s trial heard, and Rikki in particular was on the at-risk register around the time of his death. 

In the hope that his killer would be found, Neave had made a series of emotional television appeals that were later claimed in her trial to be an act.

She came under suspicion after it emerged that she was writing a book about a serial killer. Murder squad detectives had discovered how a killer in the book boasted: ‘I am a danger to myself – I am a threat to everyone.’

The mother-of-four had described her book as ‘a first person account of the perfect murder – about a fellow who strangles and mutilates a girl’.

On January 19, 1995, Neave was arrested and questioned over her son’s murder. Four days later, she was charged with offences against the child and was accused of assaulting, mistreating and neglecting her son.

Neave was alleged to have treated all her children in a 'savage' manner. She is pictured above in 2016 with her husband Gary Rogers

Neave was alleged to have treated all her children in a ‘savage’ manner. She is pictured above in 2016 with her husband Gary Rogers

Neave is seen struggling with police as they try to put her into a prison van a year after her arrest for her son's murder

Neave is seen struggling with police as they try to put her into a prison van a year after her arrest for her son’s murder

Rikki is pictured with his father Trevor Harvey. Harvey ended his relationship with Rikki's mother when his son was aged three

A beaming Rikki during his short life

Rikki is pictured left with his father Trevor Harvey. Harvey ended his relationship with Rikki’s mother when his son was aged three. Right: A beaming Rikki during his short life

In May of 1995, she was charged with his murder.

At her trial, it emerged that officers had found a picture of Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous Vitruvian Man inside a book that was in her home.

The picture depicted a figure in the cruciform position – the exact shape that Rikki had been found in.

Prosecutor James Hunt said police also found a book called Magik, by well-known occultist Aleister Crowley, which Neave was ‘very familiar with’.

The book spoke of sacrifice and the need to ‘choose a victim such as a male child of perfect innocence and high intelligence’, Neave’s trial heard.

The prosecution alleged that Neave had strangled her son by grabbing him by his anorak, lifting him up and twisting its cloth. It was said to be a method she had previously used to punish him.

At the time of his death, Rikki was living with his mother and two younger sisters on the 1970s Welland Estate in Peterborough. His older sister, Rebecca, who was aged eight at the time of his death, was living in foster care. Above: A photograph of Rikki's bedroom that was shown in court during Watson's trial

At the time of his death, Rikki was living with his mother and two younger sisters on the 1970s Welland Estate in Peterborough. His older sister, Rebecca, who was aged eight at the time of his death, was living in foster care. Above: A photograph of Rikki’s bedroom that was shown in court during Watson’s trial

The filthy kitchen of a house Rikki lived in with his mother, Ruth, on Redmile Walk in Peterborough

The filthy kitchen of a house Rikki lived in with his mother, Ruth, on Redmile Walk in Peterborough 

Jurors also heard how, ten days before Rikki’s death, Neave told Cambridgeshire social services that she would kill her son if he was not taken into care.

But after 16 days of proceedings, she was found not guilty of Rikki’s murder and instead began a seven-year sentence for inflicting horrific and repeated cruelty on her son.

The case had hinged on the evidence of policeman PC Robert McNeil, who, on the night Rikki disappeared, did not find the child’s body when he searched the woods in which he was later found.

Whilst the prosecution had claimed the officer missed it in the dark, jurors acquitted Neave after being told she would not have had time to move his body after that time because police were with her.

Jurors also heard how, ten days before Rikki's death, Neave told Cambridgeshire social services that she would kill her son if he was not taken into care. Pic: The living room of the home where Rikki lived

Jurors also heard how, ten days before Rikki’s death, Neave told Cambridgeshire social services that she would kill her son if he was not taken into care. Pic: The living room of the home where Rikki lived 

The instances of abuse recounted in her trial included one occasion where she squirted washing up liquid into Rikki’s mouth. In another, she had kept him away from school because she had ‘knocked him black and blue’.

If Rikki annoyed his mother, she would ‘hit him so hard that she would knock him to the floor,’ original prosecutor Christopher Metcalfe had said in her trial.

Neave often locked Rikki’s sisters naked in their bedrooms, and she was said to have spent up to half of the money she received in benefits on drugs.

After Neave was released from prison in 2000 following her child cruelty conviction, she campaigned to have the inquiry into Rikki’s murder reopened. Today sees her long battle finally reach its conclusion.  

About The Author