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Rikki Neave murderer faces life for 1994 killing

Rikki Neave was murdered in 1994 (Cambs Police/PA)
Rikki Neave was murdered in 1994 (Cambs Police/PA)

A murderer who was brought to justice more than 27 years after strangling schoolboy Rikki Neave is due to be sentenced on Friday.

James Watson was aged 13 when he lured six-year-old Rikki to woods near his home in Peterborough on November 28 1994.

He throttled the boy from behind with a ligature or anorak collar, 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.

Rikki’s body was found the day after he went missing.

James Watson court case
Police tape cordoning off the woods next to the Welland Estate in Peterborough, near to where Rikki Neave’s body was found (Cambs Police/PA)

Police had initially accused Rikki’s mother Ruth Neave of the killing, but she was acquitted after a trial.

Watson was spoken to as a witness at the time because he was seen with Rikki on the day of his disappearance.

But his lying account went unchallenged and he was not considered a suspect until a DNA breakthrough years later linking him to Rikki’s discarded clothes.

Prosecutors felt there was still insufficient evidence, but reversed their decision after Ms Neave and Rikki’s sisters called for a victims’ right to review.

In April, Watson, now 41, was found guilty of murder by a majority after an Old Bailey jury deliberated for 36 hours and 31 minutes.

On Friday, Watson will return to the Old Bailey where Mrs Justice McGowan will sentence him to life and set a minimum term before he can be considered for release.

James Watson court case
James Watson, 41, who was convicted of murdering Rikki Neave (CPS/PA)

Previously, the court heard how 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.

More disturbing behaviour was noted at Watson’s children’s home, including him masturbating over pictures of young boys in underwear and keeping a dead pheasant in his room, the court heard.

The prosecution claimed it was no coincidence that, three days before the murder, Watson was the source of a bogus radio report about a two-year-old boy being strangled.

Immediately after Rikki’s murder in identical circumstances, Watson obsessed over newspaper coverage of the killing, copying front page stories at school.

And an ex-girlfriend said he had later strangled her during sex in woods and killed a bird and spread its wings, in a sinister reconstruction of Rikki’s murder.

James Watson court case
A front page of Peterborough Evening Telegraph dated November 30 1994 with an article about the death of Rikki Neave (CPS/PA)

Jurors heard that key evidence in the case against Watson 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.

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.

Prosecutor John Price QC said that was his “really big mistake”, as police were able to prove the fence was not there in 1994.

Jurors were told Watson has a long criminal record, which includes convictions for stealing cars and setting fire to a British Transport Police station.

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

In his defence, Watson’s legal team pointed the finger of suspicion at Ms Neave, which she rejected.

The defence said Watson could not have murdered Rikki, as he was seen alive in the afternoon of November 28.

However, the prosecution shrugged off the “ghost sightings”, which wrongly claimed Rikki was wearing a red jumper or riding a BMX bike.

James Watson court case
Court artist sketch of Ruth Neave, mother of Rikki Neave, appearing via video link at the Old Bailey, London (Elizabeth Cook/PA)

After the verdict, Ms Neave thanked the jury for making “the right decision”, called her son’s killer a “monster” but said “this is not the time to celebrate as it should never have happened”.

Rikki’s sister Rebecca added: “Although this day is a painful reminder of the loss we have all suffered, justice has finally been served.”

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

“All the way through this, it’s been a monumental series of challenges. But as far as we’re concerned, we’ve got the right person responsible for the dreadful, dreadful murder of that little boy Rikki Neave,” he said.

Hannah Van Dadelszen, deputy chief crown prosecutor for the east of England, acknowledged prosecuting Ms Neave was “wrong” and said she was “pleased” that justice had now been delivered.

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