In October 1996, Ruth Neave collapsed in tears in the dock at Northampton Crown Court when a jury acquitted her of the murder of her six-year-old son, Rikki Neave.
Afterwards, many found the verdict difficult to accept when it was found that she had pleaded guilty to a series of child crimes against the schoolboy and two of his siblings.
But on Thursday, 27 years after Rikki went missing, Neave faced another emotional day in court — this time at the Old Bailey, London, when jurors found a man guilty of the murder of her son in November 1994, by majority decision. of votes.
The verdict concludes a four-decade mystery that at its core is the sad story of a schoolboy whose short life came to a grim end.
Born in 1989, Rikki was living with his mother and two of his three sisters on the Welland estate in Peterborough at the time of his murder. His father and stepfather have both died since his murder.
Prior to his murder, Rikki and his family were well known to the local social services and Rikki was on the “risk register”.
Prosecutors told jurors in 2022 that the crimes Neave pleaded guilty to amounted to a “wide range of serious, intentional assault,” adding that “the neglect exposed such a young person to serious risk.” Rikki was used as a “courier” to buy drugs for his mother, they said, a heavy user of amphetamine sulfate, also known as speed. After midnight, he would be sent to a drug dealer with a note asking for “sorbet” — her euphemism for amphetamines.
Her conviction for atrocities led to a major overhaul of social services in Cambridgeshire, which were torn by disputes and overworked.
But Neave has since denied the seriousness of the allegations. She told jurors in February 2022 that she pleaded guilty only to being “bullied into it” and believed she pleaded guilty to beating her children.
On Monday, November 28, 1994, Rikki left his house alone around 9:30 am. He didn’t go to school.
At 6 p.m., Neave called 999 to report her son missing. His body was found by PC Malcolm Graham at 12 noon on Tuesday, November 29. It was in a wooded area, a five-minute walk from his house.
The body was naked. Lying on the ground, flat on his back, Rikki had been deliberately posed by the killer in a star shape, with arms outstretched and legs wide apart.
The missing clothes were found on Wednesday 30 November. Closer examination revealed that Rikki had been strangled by the neckline of his own zipped jacket, pulled hard against his throat from behind.
On May 24, 1995, about six months after Rikki’s disappearance, his mother was charged with both murder and atrocities.
Neave’s pleas of guilty to five examples of cruelty, as well as one of burglary and another of supplying amphetamines, were held before the jury during her murder trial.
The prosecution had alleged that she killed her son as a human sacrifice to win back her husband, Dean, who did not get along with the boy.
They also claimed that she told neighbors that she was an occult priestess and that she strangled him, washed the body and laid him down in a manner similar to Leonardo De Vinci’s Vitruvian Man; the famous image was found in a book in her home.
Jumping forward to 2022, Neave denies ever claiming to be an occult priestess, although she admits she owned a number of books on the subject of dark magic and the occult.
Jurors in 1996 acquitted her of the murder. In 2022, prosecutors admitted that the not-guilty verdict against Neave was correct, adding that the decision to charge her with his murder was wrong.
The detective in charge of the re-investigation, Paul Fullwood, would add that the case against her was a “fantasy hypothesis”.
Rikki’s death became a “cold case” — formally shelved and unsolved — until pressure from Neave and her husband, Gary Rogers, led to it being reopened in 2015.
Fullwood, now retired, and his team discovered a series of tapes—basically duct tape affixed to Rikki’s clothing—used as evidence in 1994. They were sent for examination using techniques not available at the time of the original investigation.
The tests found the DNA of someone named James Lewis Watson, who was 13 years old at the time of Rikki’s disappearance.
Prosecutors described the discovery as a “turning point”. Watson was no stranger to the investigations. The police had heard him as a witness on December 5, 1994 after he was seen by two separate witnesses with Rikki on the day of the disappearance.
The discovery of his DNA led to Watson being identified as a suspect in the murder in February 2016 and the start of a reassessment of all evidence in the case.
In his first account of that meeting with Rikki, Watson made no mention of any physical contact between him and Rikki.
But jump forward nearly 24 years to April 2016, and Watson, who was tentatively interviewed as a murder suspect, changed his account — specifically that he lifted Rikki to look over a fence at a nearby backhoe.
Detectives say the fence didn’t exist.
They became increasingly convinced that they had finally identified Rikki’s killer.
Born on April 1, 1981, Watson was living in care in March at the time of Rikki’s disappearance in 1994 at a children’s home called Woodgates, about 20 miles east of Peterborough.
Watson was constantly skipping school and those who knew him then have since described unusual behavior that paints a picture of a troubled boy.
Accusations included indecently touching a five-year-old boy, suspected of masturbating over images of young children, and repeatedly putting his hands around a teenage girl’s neck during sex.
He also appeared to have a grotesque interest in the subject of infanticide.
In the wake of Rikki’s death, teachers revealed that he had made several photocopies of the front cover of the Peterborough Evening Telegraph, which featured a photograph of Rikki, and claimed they would be on display at the children’s home.
Watson’s own mother told officers in 1994 a disturbing conversation she had with her son about the murder of a child — three days before Rikki disappeared.
As Watson grew older, he accumulated a long list of criminal offenses, including sexually abusing a man in 2018.
His other convictions included arson, carrying a firearm in a public place, damaging property, using threatening words or conduct, handling stolen property, possessing cannabis, taking a motor vehicle without authorization and 17 convictions for theft and 11 burglary.
After his formal arrest on suspicion of murdering Rikki, he fled the country in the back of a motor home belonging to an acquaintance he met at a probation hostel. He ended up in Portugal, from where he was extradited to the UK in 2016.
It was not until February 2020 that he was finally charged with the murder of Rikki, and due to legal challenges and the Covid pandemic, he was not charged until January of this year.
As proof, Watson was spoken calmly, mild-mannered and almost remorseful regarding his previous transgression.
But he often pinned himself on the witness stand, contradicting his own evidence and reporting the events, then saying he couldn’t remember.
Finally, on T, the 27-year mystery of Rikki’s death was solved with Watson’s conviction at the Old Bailey.
Rikki’s mother watched as the verdict was read, who had been guilty of demanding cruelty to her son during his short life, but now with the cloud of suspicion over his murder lifted for good.