A man has been jailed for life after being found guilty of murdering six-year-old schoolboy Rikki Neave in Peterborough in 1994. James Watson, 41, was just 13 when he strangled Rikki in the Welland estate woods near the boy. home on November 28, 1994.
After murdering the child, Watson stripped him naked and left his naked body posed with his legs and arms outstretched in a star shape. He then threw the boy’s clothes into a nearby wheelie bin.
Around 6 p.m. that day, Rikki’s mother, Ruth Neave, reported him missing. Officers attended his home and an extensive search of the area was carried out with the support of the local population.
Read more: James Watson sentenced for murder of Peterborough schoolboy – updates
The following day at 12:05 p.m. Rikki’s body was found in the wooded area of Eye Road near Willoughby Court. He was found a five-minute walk from his home.
A post-mortem examination concluded that Rikki had died from neck compression. He had been strangled. It is believed that he had been strangled from behind, using the zipper of his coat.
Six months later, on May 24, 1995, Ruth Neave was charged with Rikki’s murder and the “cruelty” offenses. She later pleaded guilty to cruelty but was unanimously found not guilty of her murder following a trial in October 1996.
In 2015, a cold case investigation was revived, with a whole new team of officers looking into the case. They now had forensic techniques not available in 1994, which were used to find Watson’s DNA on a tape used to take samples from Rikki’s clothing.
Watson was questioned at the time in the original investigation as a witness. He claimed to have seen Rikki briefly, but no more than a few seconds, and described no physical contact between them.
When later interviewed after his 2016 arrest, Watson changed his account of meeting Rikki. He then claimed he lifted it so he could see over a fence to watch a backhoe at work.
The investigation continued and proved to be the most complex and comprehensive since the Major Crimes Unit was introduced in 2012. Second in this respect only to the Soham murders in the history of Cambridgeshire Police.
Following the investigation, Watson was charged with Rikki’s murder on February 17, 2020 – a charge he denied. On April 21, Watson, of no known address, was found guilty by a majority verdict following a trial at the Old Bailey in London.
Today, June 24, by the same court, he was sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum sentence of 15 years, less the 843 days already served. The sentence took into account that he was 13 when he committed the murder.
At sentencing, the judge, Mrs Justice McGowan, said: ‘Rikki was described as happy, bright, cheeky and capable of great affection for her sisters. He never had the chance to grow up, to be happy and to lead a normal and fulfilling life. This was denied to him by his killer. Likewise, his sisters were denied growing up knowing him and having a connection with him. The loss his family suffered will stay with them forever and no words I say will ease that pain.
“Almost certainly because of family experience, Rikki was too willing to trust strangers. He was vulnerable and it was a premeditated crime. Rikki wasn’t necessarily the intended victim, but you planned and talked about killing a young boy in the same place where Rikki was killed.
“I accept that you had a difficult and abusive upbringing, but there is no suggestion that you did not understand what you did or the seriousness and criminal nature of your actions.”
Former Deputy Chief Constable Paul Fullwood, lead investigator, said: ‘Today’s sentencing marks the final chapter in our journey to get justice for Rikki and her family. It took a long time to get to this point, but we promised ourselves to find the person responsible for Rikki’s death and it’s a promise we kept.
“Historic murders are notoriously difficult to investigate, and this case came with significant challenges, but we used every tool available to overcome those obstacles. “This result was possible thanks to a committed and hardworking team, closely linked to the prosecution, and the support of Rikki’s family and the witnesses involved in the initial case.
“Rikki was a kind, cheeky guy who was cruelly taken in the most horrific of circumstances. His memory lives on through his family, who must deal with his loss for the rest of their lives. But now they finally have some answers, they know what happened and they know who took Rikki from them, and I really hope it brings them some peace.
“For years Watson had gone into hiding, knowing he was responsible for Rikki’s murder and thinking he got away with it, but that is no longer the case. He will spend years behind bars and the truth will finally be revealed.