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The Murder Of Rikki Neave

A naked body of 6-year-old Rikki Neave was found near his Peterborough, Cambridgeshire home on November 29, 1994. His abusive mother was initially seen as a suspect, but the case quickly went cold after she was acquitted.

It would take more than 25 years before someone was again charged with the murder of the 6-year-old.

In 1994, Rikki Neave was living together with his mother, Ruth, and his sisters in the Welland Estate in Peterborough.

On Monday 28, 1994, Rikki was seen leaving for school at around 9 AM from his home in Redmile Walk wearing gray trousers, a white shirt, black shoes and a blue coat. But he never attended school.

Reports say that a boy fitting Rikki’s description was seen that morning on the street close to his home with a teenage boy and other children. Later, another witness saw the 6-year-old and the teenage boy walking away side by side. After that, Rikki disappeared.

As the 6-year-old then failed to return home, he was reported missing by his mother at 6 PM. It did not take long for authorities to find Rikki, but unfortunately, it happened in the worst possible way.

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At 12:05 PM the following day, November 29, Rikki’s naked body was discovered by PC Malcolm Graham in a wooded area next to the housing estate in Peterborough where Rikki lived—just five minutes from his home. Prosecutor John Price QC said:

He had been strangled. The body was naked. It was lying on the ground, flat on its back. It had been deliberately posed by the killer, in a star shape, with outstretched arms and his legs placed wide apart.”

According to police, Rikki had been killed while still wearing his clothes, most likely surprised from behind, and his own jacket had been used “as an improvised ligature.” A white shirt button was found 18 inches from Rikki’s left hand on a leaf.

The next morning, at 9:30 AM on November 30, Rikki’s clothes were found by a police constable in a wheelie bin outside a house on Willoughby Court on the wood border, 150 yards from the body. The shirt was missing three white buttons, laces on the shoes were still tied, and Rikki’s underwear and socks were rolled up in his jacket.

The autopsy revealed Rikki had died approximately two hours after he had eaten some Weetabix breakfast cereal.

But who could have strangled a 6-year-old schoolboy?

Witness reports state that on the day Rikki disappeared, around 10 PM, two boys were seen pushing a buggy along Belvoir Way, heading towards the area where Rikki’s body was later found. In addition, on November 29 at 6:30 AM, three hours before the discovery, two boys were seen walking out of the woods in the same area.

Still, the first person that the police blamed for the death of the 6-year-old was his own mother, Ruth. She was arrested in January 1995 at an address in Chatteris and was initially charged with child cruelty to Rikki and his sisters. Rikki’s stepfather, Dean Neave, described the child’s turbulent home life:

Ruth was always shouting and screaming at the children and was regularly hitting them with her hand. I thought a lot of it was unnecessary, and I could not stand it, so I moved out.”

In addition, it was revealed that Ruth had been both using and dealing speed and allegedly at least on one occasion held her son around his neck until Rikki went “red in the face.” During another incident, Ruth allegedly held Rikki upside down on a bridge as he screamed. So, it is safe to say Ruth was not the best mother to her children but was she a murderer?

In May 1995, Ruth Neave was charged with Rikki’s murder and stood trial the following year. Ruth firmly denied having anything to do with her son’s murder but pleaded guilty to the charges of cruelty. On October 30, 1996, she was unanimously acquitted of murder by a jury at Northampton crown court but was sentenced to five years in prison due to admitting child cruelty.

Meanwhile, Rikki’s case went cold with no leads to follow. Year after year passed without any progress. Finally, twenty years later, in 2014, Ruth urged police to re-open the investigation into her son’s death. It seemed to work as the following year, in June 2015, police officially opened a cold case review.

In twenty years, technology had advanced a lot, and so, the investigators were now able to collect DNA from Rikki’s clothes—and there was a match. A man in his forties, James Watson.

James had been 13 years old at the time of Rikki’s murder and was seen with the 6-year-old the day he disappeared on November 28, 1994. He was even spoken to by police as a witness, but nothing gave police a reason to see James as a suspect back then. Not until his DNA was found on Rikki’s clothes 20 years later.

James was also seen walking out of a cul-de-sac where Rikki’s clothes were later recovered.

Sounds like a relatively strong case, and James Watson was indeed arrested in 2016, but he was released without charges. He then smuggled himself out of the UK and traveled to Portugal, from where he posted selfies to social media taunting the police.

However, James was not able to hide from justice forever as on February 17, 2020, he was officially charged with Rikki’s murder. Prosecutor Price said:

It is the prosecution’s case that the new DNA evidence, other scientific evidence, and a wealth of evidence of a variety of circumstances, taken from multiple sources, which importantly are independent of one another, combine surely to prove that James Lewis Watson is indeed the killer of Rikki Neave.”

Court has already heard several witnesses, including a statement saying that James had a ‘grotesque interest’ in the subject of child murder in general, including in things he said to his mother back in 1994. James’s teachers also had reportedly noted “a conspicuous preoccupation with the extensive reporting of the fate of Rikki Neave” in the 13-year-old.

James Watson himself has denied murdering Rikki Neave. His trial is currently ongoing, and time will tell if Rikki’s family will finally get the closure they have been waiting for almost 30 years.

UPDATE: Since episode 15 was recorded and produced, there has been further developments at the trial of James Watson, the man accused of murdering 6 year old Rikki Neave. Despite walking free for almost 3 decades, James Watson has finally been brought to justice, as a jury found Watson guilty of Rikki’s’ murder after an 11 week trial at the Old Bailey. Sentencing has yet to take place however, as Watson was 13 years old when he murdered young Rikki, this means the 41 year old will be sentenced as if he was a teenager – with a starting point of a 12 year sentence.


Narration – Rhiannon Doe
Introduction & Outro – Derek Bartle
Website layout & design – Franhoward


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