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James Watson jailed for life for murder of Rikki Neave in November 1994



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A man has been jailed for life after being found guilty of murdering six-year-old schoolboy Rikki Neave in Peterborough nearly 30 years ago.

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

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

James Watson has been jailed for life for killing former March schoolboy Rikki Neave. (57538255)
James Watson has been jailed for life for killing former March schoolboy Rikki Neave. (57538255)

At about 6pm Rikki’s mother Ruth Neave reported him missing. Officers attended his home and extensive searches were carried out in the area, supported by local people.

The following day at 12.05pm Rikki’s body was discovered in the wooded area off Eye Road, close to Willoughby Court – a five-minute walk from his home.

A post mortem examination concluded 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.

Rikki Neave, whose naked body was dumped in undergrowth less than 500 yards from his home (PA) (57538340)
Rikki Neave, whose naked body was dumped in undergrowth less than 500 yards from his home (PA) (57538340)

Six months later, on 24 May 1995, Ruth Neave was charged with Rikki’s 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.

In 2015 an investigation into Rikki’s murder was relaunched, with a completely new team of officers looking at the case.

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

When interviewed following his arrest in 2016 Watson 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.

The investigation continued and turned out to be the most complex and comprehensive conducted since the Major Crime Unit was introduced in 2012 and second in this respect only to the Soham murders in Cambridgeshire’s policing history.

Ruth Neave was cleared of murdering her son Rikki at an earlier trial (Ben Kendall/PA) (57538368)
Ruth Neave was cleared of murdering her son Rikki at an earlier trial (Ben Kendall/PA) (57538368)

Following this investigation Watson was charged with Rikki's murder on 17 February 2020 – a charge he denied.

On 21 April Watson, of no known address, was found guilty by majority verdict following a trial at the Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey) in London.

Today (24 June) at the same court he was jailed for life, to serve a minimum of 15 years, minus the 843 days already served.

James Watson (right), appearing in the dock at the Old Bailey in London (Elizabeth Cook/PA) (56212692)
James Watson (right), appearing in the dock at the Old Bailey in London (Elizabeth Cook/PA) (56212692)

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

On sentencing 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.

“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.

Rikki Neave, who was murdered in Peterborough at the age of 6 (57538330)
Rikki Neave, who was murdered in Peterborough at the age of 6 (57538330)

“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.”

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.

Rikki Neave, who was murdered in Peterborough at the age of 6 (57538327)
Rikki Neave, who was murdered in Peterborough at the age of 6 (57538327)

“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.

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)

“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.”



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