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Rikki Neave: James Watson found guilty of murdering six-year-old boy nearly 30 years ago

Written by on 22 April 2022

A man has been found guilty of murdering six-year-old schoolboy Rikki Neave nearly 30 years ago.

James Watson, 41, was 13 years old when he strangled Rikki in woodland in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, on 28 November 1994.

The boy’s body was found the following day a few minutes’ walk from his home in Redmile Walk, Welland.

Rikki was killed in 1994 Image: Rikki’s sister Rochelle Neave hails the verdict as a ‘victory’ for the family

Watson had launched a “surprise attack” on the schoolboy and strangled him with his own jacket, the Old Bailey was told.

He then stripped the boy’s body and posed him in a “star shape” in woodland before dumping his clothes in a nearby wheelie bin.

Clare Forsdike, a senior crown prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service, said the conviction brings “justice for Rikki” and “concludes an appalling unsolved crime almost 30 years after it happened”.

“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”, she added.

Sheradyn (left) and Rochelle Neave (right) the sisters of murdered schoolboy Rikki Neave Image: Sheradyn (left) and Rochelle Neave (right) the sisters of murdered schoolboy Rikki Neave

Ms Forsdike said a combination of “evidence from DNA, post mortem, soil samples, eyewitness testimony, and his changing accounts proved overwhelming”.

Read more: Watson denies ‘unhealthy interest in young children’

Rikki’s sister Rochelle Neave, 30, hailed the verdict as a “victory” for the family who had campaigned for justice.

She remembered her brother as a “cheeky” and “loving” boy, who would look after his siblings.

Youngest sister Sheradyn Neave, 27, who was a baby when Rikki died, said they thought they were “let down” by the police at the time, social services and “everyone who was in our lives who was meant to care”.

Ruth Neave was cleared of Rikki's murder but jailed for seven years after admitting child cruelty Image: Ruth Neave was cleared of Rikki’s murder but jailed for seven years after admitting child cruelty

Watson strangled Rikki from behind with a ligature or anorak collar to fulfil a “morbid fantasy” he had told his mother about three days before.

He obsessed over newspaper coverage of the killing, copying front page stories at school.

Watson was seen with the victim on the day he went missing and was spoken to by police as a witness at the time.

File photo dated 04/1096 of the copse in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, where the body of six-year-old Rikki Neave was found in November 1994. James Watson, 40, is on trial at the Old Bailey, London, charged with the murder of six-year-old Rikki Neave, who was found strangled in woodland 25 years ago, when Watson was a boy of 13. Issue date: Tuesday January 18, 2022. Image: Rikki’s body was found in a copse in Peterborough

The verdict comes as long-awaited vindication for Rikki’s mother Ruth Neave, who stood trial for her son’s murder in November 1994 but was cleared.

Watson’s lying account was unchallenged as police wrongly focused on a theory Ms Neave killed her son and used a buggy to dump his body.

Ms Neave, a mother-of-four, was cleared of Rikki’s murder in 1996 but jailed for seven years after admitting child cruelty.

While on bail on suspicion of murder, Watson fled to Portugal but was extradited back to Britain.

Following the verdict, former assistant chief constable Paul Fullwood, who led the cold case, said Watson is “a fantasist, a dangerous individual, and a compulsive liar”.

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