Rikki Neave's mother blasts 'monster' as he is jailed for schoolboy's 1994 murder

21 April 2022, 14:27 | Updated: 21 April 2022, 18:11

James Watson (left) has been found guilty of murdering schoolboy Rikki Neave in 1994.
James Watson (left) has been found guilty of murdering schoolboy Rikki Neave in 1994. Picture: PA/Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

A "compulsive liar" who had a "sexual interest" in children has been found guilty of murdering six-year-old schoolboy Rikki Neave in 1994.

Police officer's son James Watson, 41, was found guilty by majority verdict at the Old Bailey on Thursday after 36 hours and 31 minutes of deliberation.

Watson, who showed no emotion as he was found guilty of murder, was 13 years old when he strangled Rikki and left his naked body in a "star shape" in woodland on the Welland Estate on 28 November 1994.

Rikki's body was found a five-minute walk from his home the following day.

A post-mortem examination concluded he had been strangled with the zip of his anorak hood.

Rikki's mother Ruth Neave described her son's murderer James Watson as a "monster".

Police release audio of 999 call which reported Rikki Neave missing

Ms Neave, who was cleared of killing her son in 1996, 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."

At the age of 13, Watson 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, the prosecution said.

Rikki Neave was just six years old when he was strangled and killed.
Rikki Neave was just six years old when he was strangled and killed. Picture: Cambridgeshire Police

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.

Rikki Neave.
Rikki Neave. Picture: Cambridgeshire Police

Clare Forsdike, a senior crown prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "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.

"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."

The six-year-old's mother Ruth Neave had been wrongly accused of his murder but was cleared by a jury in 1996.

Former assistant chief constable Paul Fullwood led the eight-year long reinvestigation into the schoolboy's murder.

As Rikki's killer James Watson was brought to justice, Mr Fullwood said he hoped his family would finally get "closure".

"Today we have finally secured justice for Rikki and his family, following an almost 30-year battle to find the truth," he said.

"When we reviewed and reopened this case in 2015, we were committed to finding the person responsible for Rikki's untimely death and ensuring they were brought to justice. Following an intensive and detailed investigation, with several challenges and legal obstacles, we now know what happened to Rikki that day.

"The investigation team spent hours trawling through statements, visiting witnesses, and picking through every evidential opportunity to prepare for this case. We were supported by incredible experts, witnesses and specialists who have helped us discover who was responsible. Through close working with the Crown Prosecution Service we were able to put Watson, who was a child at the time, before the courts and today the jury have decided he is guilty of Rikki's murder.

"For years he thought he had gotten away with this most horrendous crime but today's result shows you cannot hide forever.

"In 1994 a six-year-old boy was robbed of his life; his parents lost a son and his sisters a brother. Nothing can take the pain of this heartbreaking case away, but I hope today's verdict gives Rikki's family the closure they deserve and the answers they have longed for.

"My thoughts are very much with them at this time."

Watson, of no known address, will be sentenced on 9 May.

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