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Killer of Rikki Neave guilty of murder

|News, Violent crime
Rikki Neave school photo
Rikki Neave school photo.

Update 24 June 2022: James Watson has been sentenced to life imprisonment for Rikki Neave's murder. He will serve a minimum of 15 years.

A man who strangled six-year-old Rikki Neave has today been found guilty of murder.

James Watson was 13 when he brutally strangled Rikki Neave in a wood in Peterborough on 28 November 1994. Watson, now 41, most likely used Rikki’s zipped up coat as a ligature, in the unprovoked attack. He used so much force that marks from the zip’s metal teeth were imprinted on Rikki Neave’s skin.

The case attracted national coverage in 1994, particularly as it happened 18 months after the murder of two-year-old James Bulger. Ruth Neave was tried and found unanimously not guilty of her son’s murder in October 1996. In James Watson’s trial she gave evidence for the prosecution.

Clare Forsdike, a senior crown prosecutor at the CPS, said:

“The conviction of James Watson for killing Rikki Neave concludes an appalling unsolved crime almost 30 years after it happened. It brings justice for Rikki.

“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.

“Ultimately a combination of evidence from DNA, post-mortem, soil samples, eyewitness testimony, and his changing accounts proved overwhelming.

“Only James Watson knows why he did it. He remained silent for two decades and then put Rikki’s family through the agony of a trial.

“I hope the verdict gives some consolation to all those who love and miss Rikki Neave.”

The murder remained unsolved until police reopened it as part of a cold case review and Watson became a suspect. He left the UK after he was interviewed as a suspect in 2016 and had to be extradited back from Portugal by the CPS who later charged him with murder.

DNA and the missing fence

James Watson in custody
James Watson in custody

A key piece of evidence against Watson was the DNA he left on Rikki Neave’s clothes. Samples from the clothes were taken in 1994 but the technology was not sufficiently advanced to provide a DNA match until 2015.

Watson explained away the DNA by saying he had picked up Rikki Neave so he could see over a wooden fence at some diggers on a construction site. He had never mentioned that to police when he gave statements in 1994 and 2015. He only did so after finding out the police had new information and guessing it might be DNA. Images from 1994 revealed there was no fence at the location although one was built years later.

A bizarre phone call

On Friday 25 November, three days before Rikki Neave was murdered, Watson told his mother he had heard a radio news report about a two-year-old boy in the area being abducted, strangled, and left naked in the place where Rikki’s body was to be found. No such incident was recorded by the authorities.


Ruth Neave reported her son missing when he failed to return home from school. It would later emerge that neither he nor James Watson went to their respective schools that day.

Rikki Neave’s naked body was found in a wood adjacent to the A15 on 29 November. He was lying on his back and Watson had posed his body in a star-shape. His school uniform was discovered rolled up in a wheelie bin not far from the wood.

During the first police investigation Watson was treated as a witness. He told police he briefly spoke to Rikki the morning he went missing but then they walked off in separate directions. An eyewitness who knew Watson, testified that she saw them walking off together towards the wood.

Notes to editors

  • The trial of James Watson (DOB 1/4/1981) began at the Old Bailey on 18 January 2022. He was charged with one count of murder.
  • Rikki Neave (DOB 4/3/1988) likely left his home between 9 and 9.30 and died between 10.30 and 11am on Monday 28 November 1994.
  • Clare Forsdike is a Senior Crown Prosecutor in the Complex Casework Unit in CPS East of England. John Price QC of 23ES chambers was lead counsel for the prosecution with Nathan Rasiah as his junior.

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