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Mini Bonus Episode - The Murder of Rikki Neave

When the naked body of 6-year-old Rikki Neave was found near his Peterborough home, on the 29th of November, 1994, his abusive mother was initially seen as a suspect… but the case quickly went cold when she was eventually acquitted. 

It would take more than 25 years before someone was again charged with the murder of the 6-year-old. 

In 1994, Rikki Neave was living together with his mother, Ruth, and his sisters in the Welland Estate in Peterborough. 

On Monday 28, 1994, Rikki was seen leaving for school at around 9 AM from his home in Redmile Walk wearing gray trousers, a white shirt, black shoes and a blue coat. But he never attended school. 

Reports say that a boy fitting Rikki’s description was seen that morning on the street close to his home with a teenage boy and other children. Later, another witness saw the 6-year-old and the teenage boy walking away side by side. After that, Rikki disappeared. As the 6-year-old then failed to return home, he was reported missing by his mother at 6 PM. It did not take long for the authorities to find Rikki, but unfortunately, it happened in the worst possible way. 

At 12:05 PM the following day, November 29, Rikki’s naked body was discovered by PC Malcolm Graham in a wooded area next to the housing estate in Peterborough where Rikki lived—just five minutes from his home. Prosecutor John Price QC said: 

He had been strangled. The body was naked. It was lying on the ground, flat on its back. It had been deliberately posed by the killer, in a star shape, with outstretched arms and his legs placed wide apart.” 

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According to police, Rikki had been killed while still wearing his clothes, most likely surprised from behind, and his own jacket had been used “as an improvised ligature.” A white shirt button was found 18 inches from Rikki’s left hand on a leaf. The next morning, at 9:30 AM on November 30, Rikki’s clothes were found by a police constable in a wheelie bin outside a house on Willoughby Court on the wood border, 150 yards from the body. The shirt was missing three white buttons, laces on the shoes were still tied, and Rikki’s underwear and socks were rolled up in his jacket. 

The autopsy revealed Rikki had died approximately two hours after he had eaten some Weetabix breakfast cereal. But who could have strangled a 6-year-old schoolboy? 


Witness reports state that on the day Rikki disappeared, around 10 PM, two boys were seen pushing a buggy along Belvoir Way, heading towards the area where Rikki’s body was later found. In addition, on November 29 at 6:30 AM, three hours before the discovery, two boys were seen walking out of the woods in the same area. 

Still, the first person that the police blamed for the death of the 6-year-old was his own mother, Ruth. She had an image of Da Vinci’s famous Vitruvian man in her home, and at the same time, she was writing a book about a serial killer. These facts combined with reports of child abuse were enough to warrant attention. She was arrested in January 1995 at an address in Chatteris and was initially charged with child cruelty to Rikki and his sisters. Rikki’s stepfather, Dean Neave, described the child’s turbulent home life: 

Ruth was always shouting and screaming at the children and was regularly hitting them with her hand. I thought a lot of it was unnecessary, and I could not stand it, so I moved out.” 

In addition, it was revealed that Ruth had been both using and dealing speed and allegedly at least on one occasion held her son’s around his neck until Rikki went “red in the face.” During another incident, Ruth allegedly held Rikki upside down on a bridge as he screamed. So it is safe to say Ruth was not the best mother for her children but was she a murderer? 

In May 1995, Ruth Neave was charged with Rikki’s murder and stood trial the following year. Ruth firmly denied having anything to do with her son’s murder but pleaded guilty to the charges of cruelty. On October 30, 1996, she was unanimously acquitted of murder by a jury at Northampton crown court but was sentenced to five years in prison due to admitting child cruelty. However, Ruth lost custody of her daughters Rochelle, Rebecca and Sheridan, resulting in the girls growing up in foster-care. This caused a deep rift in the family. For a mother who had lost one child to a murder and the others to the system, this was too much.  

Meanwhile, Rikki’s case went cold with no leads to follow. Year after year passed without any progress. Finally, twenty years later, in 2014, Ruth urged police to re-open the investigation into her son’s death. It seemed to work as the following year, in June 2015, police officially opened a cold case review. 

In twenty years, technology had advanced, and so, the investigators were now able to collect DNA from Rikki’s clothes—and there was a match. A man in his forties, James Watson. 

James had been 13-years-old at the time of Rikki’s murder and was seen with the 6-year-old the day he disappeared on November 28, 1994. He was even spoken to by the police as a witness, but nothing gave the police a reason to see James as a suspect back then. Not until his DNA was found on Rikki’s clothes 20 years later. 

An eye-witness who was a resident of Welland Estate,  Evelyn Pollard, claimed to have seen the two boys, Rikki and James in a car park.  James was also seen walking out of a cul-de-sac where Rikki’s clothes were later recovered. 

Sounds like a relatively strong case, and James Watson was indeed arrested in 2016, but he was released without charges. 

In 1994, the then-13 year old James had said he skipped school that day to go to Welland Estate in Peterborough to visit his father, and met Rikki at 12:30 pm to watch a digger in the road. As per his statement, Rikki said “That’s a big tractor isn’t it?” and James replied: “It’s not a tractor, it’s a digger.” He said he never saw Rikki after that conversation.  

When DNA evidence came to light, James changed his statement in 2016, adding that he had picked up the 6-year-old under the armpits to hold him over the fence to be able to look at the diggers.  He then smuggled himself out of the UK and traveled to Portugal, from where he posted selfies to social media taunting the police. However, James was not able to hide from justice forever as on February 17, 2020, he was officially charged with Rikki’s murder. Prosecutor Price said: 

It is the prosecution’s case that the new DNA evidence, other scientific evidence, and a wealth of evidence of a variety of circumstances, taken from multiple sources, which importantly are independent of one another, combine surely to prove that James Lewis Watson is indeed the killer of Rikki Neave.” 

Court proceedings revealed that James has previously been investigated for molesting a five-year-old, and his acquaintances testified that he had pedophilic tendencies, often masturbating over children’s photographs. James Watson’s defense lawyer claimed outside court that he had suffered assault at the hands of his father, and had to be taken into care in 1993. 

The Court heard several witnesses, including a statement saying that James had a ‘grotesque interest’ in the subject of child murder in general, including in things he said to his mother back in 1994. James’s teachers also had reportedly noted “a conspicuous preoccupation with the extensive reporting of the fate of Rikki Neave” in the 13-year-old. James Watson himself has denied murdering Rikki Neave.  

Investigations into the matter lead to one conclusion; James Watson had taken little Rikki to the woods near his house in Peterborough. They had left around midday, on November 28th. Then, he proceeded to strangle the child and stripped him, laying his body near a children’s play area. James stretched his arms and legs in a star shape to fulfill a macabre fantasy.  

The defense went on to argue that there was no “evidence” that James Watson had committed the murder. The DNA could have been on Rikki’s clothes for other reasons. James’ half-brother Andrew Bailey testified that he took his brother to Neave’s home. An interaction could be the source of DNA.  

Following an 11-week trial, in April of 2022, James Watson was finally sentenced. After a deliberation of 36 hours, the jury found him guilty of murder. He was given life in prison with a minimum of 15 years, minus 843 of the time served. 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 murderer.” 

Rikki’s family, his sisters and mother were not happy with the sentencing and believed the system was too lenient on James, perhaps trying him as a teenager.  Fifteen years seem insignificant to the amount of loss this tragedy caused the Neave family, repercussions from Rikki’s death broke them apart and affected all their lives.  

They might at least get closure knowing the child-killer who ruined their lives almost thirty years ago, is finally behind bars.  


Leishman, F. (2022, June 24). James Watson sentenced for murder of Peterborough schoolboy. CambridgeshireLive.  

Howard, H. (2022, April 21). The tragic life of Rikki Neave. Mail Online.  

and Emily Pennink, PA, R. H., & Moss, A. (2022, June 24). Rikki Neave’s sister tells of years of regret as boy’s killer jailed. LeicestershireLive.  

Dresch, M. (2022, June 24). Sister breaks down in court telling brother’s killer “you got your comeuppance.” Mirror.  


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Man, 40, goes on trial charged with 1994 murder of six-year-old Rikki Neave 

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Rikki Neave: Man Charged With 1994 Murder Of Six-Year-Old Schoolboy 

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Rikki Neave death – timeline of events 

‘Fundamental error’ meant Rikki Neave murder went unsolved for 20 years 

Schoolboy Rikki Neave killed in 1994 in Peterborough was ‘strangled with his own coat’ 

Man, 40, ‘was 13 years old when he strangled Rikki Neave, six, in woodland in 1994 before posing his naked body in a star shape