Plea to resolve 27-year murder mystery of Rikki Neave

The six-year-old was strangled to death in Peterborough in 1994.

31 March 2022

A prosecutor has appealed for jurors to finally resolve the 27-year murder mystery of Rikki Neave.

The six-year-old was found strangled in woods near his home in Peterborough the day after he was reported missing in November 1994.

The Old Bailey has heard how his mother Ruth Neave was originally accused of killing him but was cleared following a trial in 1996.

More than 20 years later, DNA from Rikki’s clothes pointed to James Watson, who had been aged 13 at the time.

On Thursday, John Price QC told jurors at his Old Bailey trial: “We suggest the evidence has been placed before you to enable you to finally resolve who it was who did it.

“We ask you to declare by your verdict that it was James Watson who murdered Rikki Neave.”

James Watson court case
Rikki Neave died in November 1994 (PA)

The prosecutor said that while the case was “circumstantial”, there was “no ‘only’ about it”, adding: “Circumstances do not lie.”

Mr Price suggested that Rikki’s last meal of Weetabix put his time of death at around midday on November 28, shortly after he was seen with Watson.

Mud on Rikki’s Clarks shoes indicated he walked into the woods and did not walk out again, the prosecutor said.

Mr Price gave jurors a detailed analysis of alleged “ghost sightings” of Rikki later that day, saying those witnesses were “mistaken”.

He also dismissed the evidence of a police officer who claimed to have searched but failed to find Rikki’s body in the woods on the evening of November 28.

James Watson court case
The shoes Rikki Neave was wearing when he was killed and were recovered from a bin near to the spot where his body was found (CPS/PA)

Mr Price invited jurors to “reflect with the greatest care” on evidence around a bogus radio report of a two-year-old boy found strangled near a dyke before Rikki’s death.

He said: “The source of that bogus radio news story of a case of child murder – which three days later came true in a strikingly similar way – was the same person who was with that child on the day he went missing about three minutes away from where the body was found.

“And they were heading in that direction. And it was within about an hour of that child’s death.”

He said it was an “important moment” in the trial when Watson’s mother Shirley “disowned” her police statement about it.

Mr Price went on: “Yet a further fact – 22 years later DNA was to be found on adhesive tape from (Rikki’s) clothing, the profile of which matched this same person who only three days before was in effect to have foretold what was to happen to Rikki Neave.”

That same person had shown a “hostile sexual” interest in a boy of Rikki’s age the year before, the court was told.

Mr Price told the jury: “The ultimate question which I leave for you to decide: can all of that be explained as just a series of unfortunate coincidences to incriminate an innocent man?”

In her closing speech, Watson’s lawyer Jennifer Dempster, QC, acknowledged “a very human drama” had unfolded over the past 11 weeks.

She said: “It is an important case and it is an interesting case – it’s fascinating.

“You have listened to strangers tell you half-remembered truths from events 27 years ago and you have listened to cynical, deliberate, blatant lies.

“Let me be very clear from the start. The evidence in this case, we submit, does not begin to establish James Watson’s guilt.”

She set out “four distinct routes” to an acquittal in the case.

Firstly, the prosecution had failed to establish Watson’s guilt, she said.

Secondly, she asserted there was a “wealth of evidence that Ruth Neave may be responsible for Rikki’s death”.

She said: “Were you to conclude that she might have done it, then James Watson must be found not guilty.”

Thirdly, she said there were “good quality sightings” of Rikki after midday on November 28 and if any of them were correct, Watson must be found not guilty.

Finally, she highlighted the officer’s evidence who said Rikki’s body was not in the woods at 7.30pm on the day he went missing.

Ms Dempster stressed the “burden of proof” was on the prosecution and she did not have to prove Watson’s innocence.

Watson, 40, of no fixed abode, denies Rikki’s murder and the trial continues.

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