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Murderer who lured tragic Rikki Neave, 6, to his death jailed for 15 years
24 June 2022, 13:10
A child killer has been jailed for life with a minimum term of 15 years for the murder of six-year-old Rikki Neave in 1994.
James Watson was 13 when he lured schoolboy Rikki to woods near his home in Peterborough and strangled him to fulfil a "morbid fantasy" he had told his mother about three days before.
He stripped Rikki and posed his naked body in a star shape for sexual gratification, deliberately "exhibiting" him near a children's woodland den.
His sentence was determined largely by the age he was at the time he struck.
The judge, Mrs Justice McGowan, said: "Rikki was a child too willing to trust and engage with strangers.
"He never had the chance to be happy and lead a normal and fulfilling life. That opportunity was denied to him by his murder."
Watson showed no emotion as he was sentenced.
The judge said he would only ever be released after serving the minimum term of 15 years - less the more than two years spent in custody - and once the Parole Board was satisfied he would no longer present a risk to the public.
Rikki's murder was among the most high-profile cold cases on police files until Watson's DNA was identified on the victim's clothes following a re-examination of the case two decades later.
Mother-of-four Ruth Neave was cleared of her son's murder in 1996 but was jailed for seven years after admitting child cruelty - a conviction she is reported to be considering challenging, many years after her release.
She did not attend court for the sentencing hearing.
In a witness statement, read on her behalf, she said: "Like stones dropping in a pond, it (the murder) has rippled out far and wide.
"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."
Rebecca Maria Harvey, Rikki's eldest sister, broke down as she addressed the court.
She said: "Although I was the eldest, it wasn't like that as he would look after me.
"Losing Rikki was like losing the other half of me."
Addressing Watson, but not using his name, she said: "After all these years of living your life you finally get your comeuppance, and Rikki Lee Harvey finally gets justice."
Watson, now 41, was found guilty of murder in April by a jury who deliberated for 36 hours and 31 minutes to reach a majority verdict after an 11-week trial.
Rikki's body was found on November 29 1994, the day after he went missing.
Watson had obsessed over newspaper coverage of the killing, copying front page stories at school.
The next month he was interviewed as a witness by police after an elderly resident reported seeing him with Rikki on the nearby Welland Estate.
His lying account was unchallenged, as police wrongly focused on a theory that Ms Neave killed her son and used a buggy to dump his body.
Prosecutors initially felt there was still insufficient evidence to prosecute, but reversed their decision after Ms Neave and Rikki's sisters called for a victims' right to review.
Key evidence included Rikki's last meal, of Weetabix, which fixed his time of death at about noon.
It meant Rikki was killed shortly after being seen with Watson heading to the woods where he used to play.
Rikki's muddy Clarks shoes also indicated his walk into the woods was a one-way trip.
Watson's sexual interest in younger boys was known to police, who interviewed him over an allegation that he molested a five-year-old in 1993.
An ex-girlfriend later said he had strangled her during sex in woods and killed a bird and spread its wings, in a sinister reconstruction of Rikki's murder.
The judge said there was no evidence of sexual activity with Rikki's body, although Watson had "a sexual interest in little boys".
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.
Watson, who has a long criminal record for convictions including stealing cars, fled to Portugal while on bail on suspicion of murder, but was extradited back to Britain.