Officer describes how father of Rikki Neave killer James Watson told search team his teenage son was a ‘wrong-un’ who ‘should be spoken to’ in 24 Hours in Police Custody – nearly 30 years before he was arrested for the murder

  • Rikki Neave’s body was found naked near his home in Peterborough in 1994
  • His mother Ruth was charged with murder and her abuse of her son was revealed
  • Found not guilty of murder but she was sentenced to seven years in prison
  • In June, James Watson, who was 13 when Rikki disappeared, was convicted 
  • In Police Custody: The Murder of Rikki Neave, officers speak of reinvestigation

An officer has described how the father of killer James Watson told search teams his son was a ‘wrong-un’ on Channel 4’s 24 Hours in Police Custody: The Murder of Rikki Neave.

The six-year-old, who had been strangled, was found naked and arranged in a ‘star pose’ in woods near his home in Peterborough, the day after he was reported missing by his mother on November 28, 1994.

In June, 40-year-old James Watson, who was 13 when Rikki disappeared, was convicted at the Old Bailey of the child’s murder – seven years after new evidence was found in a ‘cold case review’.

Watson, who had pleaded not guilty to murder, was arrested after sophisticated technology that was not available in the original investigation found a ‘definitive match’ between his DNA profile and samples taken from Rikki’s clothing.

In the Channel 4 documentary, which airs tonight, DC Jon Foreman, who was part of the reinvestigation team, said: ‘When Rikki’s body was found, [his father] approached the cordon and told officers, “My son was with Rikki, you need to speak to him. He’s a wrong-un and he might be involved.”’

An officer has described how the father of killer James Watson told search teams his son was a ‘wrong-un’ on Channel 4’s 24 Hours in Police Custody: The Murder of Rikki Neave (pictured, Rikki, who was murdered by James Watson) 

Speaking in the documentary, DCI Jerry White, part of the team, said: ‘We want to try to investigate this as if it happened yesterday. Blank canvas, start from scratch.’

Back in 1994, it was thought that Rikki could have been killed in a similar case to that of tragic James Bulger, who was abducted, tortured and murdered, aged 2, by 10-year-old boys, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, in Kirkby, Merseyside, in 1993.

Rikki had been heading to his school, Welland Primary School, that morning, alone, having had a bowl of Weetabix earlier this morning.

Watson, who was living at Woodgate’s Children’s Home at the time of the killing, was likely to be bunking off from Walton School in Peterborough on the same day.

In June, 40-year-old James Watson, who was 13 when Rikki disappeared, was convicted at the Old Bailey of the child’s murder – seven years after new evidence was found in a ‘cold case review’

It was later heard in court that Watson knew the Walton estate well as he had spent time there as a young child and his father still lived there.

It is believed he and Watson met on that day, with witnesses telling the jury they saw the pair walking in the direction of the woods, where Rikki would later be murdered. Watson then returned to Woodgates Children’s Home that afternoon.

He was reported missing by his mother Ruth when he didn’t return home from school, with her worried phone call played in full during the programme.

The ‘fantasist’ and ‘compulsive liar’ who evaded justice for Rikki Neave’s murder for nearly 30 years: Who is James Watson?

James Watson is ‘a fantasist, a dangerous individual, and a compulsive liar’, according to police.

Watson came from a broken home in Peterborough and was treated by social services as a ‘vulnerable child’ from March 1993.

That year, he was interviewed about a complaint that he had sexually assaulted a five-year-old boy.

Then aged 12, Watson denied it and no further action was taken, although years later he admitted it was ‘just two boys playing with each other’s penises’.

In April 1994, Watson told a family member he was physically assaulted by his father, James Watson senior, who he lived with on the Welland Estate.

On being taken into care, he stayed with foster mother Molly Donald, who he formed an attachment to.

She found him with a shotgun and felt she could not cope so Watson was sent away again, this time to Woodgate’s children’s home in March, some 20 miles from Peterborough.

Watson frequently played truant from school and would change into civilian clothes, jurors heard.

From enrolling at Walton School in Peterborough to the day of the murder, Watson was marked present on the register 18 times out of a possible 38 school days.

At the age of 13, he became obsessed with the fantasy of strangling a little boy, even telling his mother he had heard a news report about it on the radio.

Three days later, the fantasy came true when he murdered six-year-old Rikki Neave at around midday on November 28 1994, the prosecution said.

He stripped him naked for his own sexual gratification, ‘exhibiting’ the posed body to be found near a children’s den in the woods, prosecutor John Price QC said.

Afterwards, Watson became ‘fascinated’ by his own actions and made copious copies of newspaper stories, jurors were told.

He even told teachers that he knew Rikki as the brother of a friend, one of a multitude of lies.

Watson ‘cursed’ the fact he been seen with Rikki by an elderly lady, leaving him no option but to admit an encounter when police called on December 5 1994.

Watson’s account was peppered with lies but went unchallenged for more than 20 years as police wrongly pursued Rikki’s mother Ruth.

Meanwhile, care workers noted his bizarre behaviour, masturbating over a children’s clothes catalogue, keeping a dead pheasant in his room, and once allegedly throttling a member of staff with a stocking.

He moved to another care home, and despite knowing he was gay from an early age, formed a relationship with a girl, aged 15.

In 2016, she told police Watson once killed and posed a bird and would strangle her when they had sex in woods.

Watson clocked up a long list of convictions for petty crimes, including setting fire to a British Transport Police station in Peterborough.

In his evidence, Watson said he would steal cars for ‘fun’ and claimed he felt aggrieved at police because of their role in taking him away from his family.

He also claimed his late father had been a police officer, although Cambridgeshire Police say there is no record of it.

Mr Price told jurors that in the years before his arrest for Rikki’s murder, Watson became forensically aware and adept at dealing with police.

So even before police confirmed his DNA had been identified on Rikki’s clothes, Watson was prepared with another lie, which was to prove his undoing.

Watson, who maintained his connection with Peterborough through his sister Clair and mother Shirley, concocted a fictitious story about lifting Rikki up to look through a hole in a fence to watch diggers.

He did not factor in the determination of police, who established the fence was not there in 1994.

When Watson fled the country, his sister Clair Perna tried to get him travel documents but insisted they were only to help him return to Britain.

Ms Perna told jurors their late father had been a lorry driver, but quickly added that she thought he was a police officer before she was born.

She said her brother would never hurt a child, but was in the dark about his admitted sexual activity with a five-year-old.

Unbeknownst to her, for 27 years Watson had also lived with the biggest secret of all – Rikki’s murder.

 

Meanwhile  DCI White, a member of the reinvestigation team, said: ‘A six year old has gone missing – you’re going to get an immediate response looking for options of where could this six year old be. 

‘Why hasn’t he come home? Is there something going on in the house? Is it a case of someone taking him?’

But he added: ‘At six o’clock, I wouldn’t have thought anyone would have thought, Rikki’s dead.

DCI White said: ‘There probably would have been a general feel that he was on the estate somewhere.’

DC Kevin Hills, another member of the team, said: ‘Rikki was allowed to hang round the estate. Often, he went off on his own.’

As night drew in, a team of officers searched the estate and surrounding area.

The team said as ‘many officers as good be deployed’  were sent out to search for Rikki.

DCI White said: ‘There probably would have been a general feel that he was on the estate somewhere.’

It was later established that he never went to school that day – and nobody had seen him since 9am. 

DC Jon Foreman, another member of the team, said: ‘The next morning, still no Rikki. Enquiries continue. By this point, it’s made the news.’

A neighbour, Shelley Dickson, recalled how she had to walk past Ruth’s house on the way to school, but said she was reassured by her mother that Rikki ‘would be found’ by the time she got home. 

PC Malcolm Graham, from the original investigation, said: ‘We walked through the trees as best we could.

‘It was tangled woodland with little paths running through it. Five minutes into those woods, I stopped.’

He had found Rikki’s body, who was stripped naked and deliberately posed in a star shape.

Dr Nat Carey, a forensic pathologist, described it as ‘an unusual scene by any standard’, saying: ‘Firstly he was naked out of doors and then he was posed in this star shape. 

‘The stripping and posing was telling you something about the perpetrator. What, I have no idea.’

Keith Chamberlain was put in charge of the case  and within an hour of the body being found, officers started house to house inquiries.

Shelley said: ‘it was a close community – everyone knew everyone. We all played out, we used to play down the woods, making dens – loved it. It wasn’t the best estate. There was a lot of people on drugs, cars getting nicked.’

The police were filmed visiting the spot where his body was found, with DCI White saying: ‘They did do a thorough investigation of the clothing. Taping for hair samples, fibre samples. It was the best they could do at that time.

‘The fact of the matter is, he knew his killer. There was no urination or defecation – if he didn’t know him, he would have been scared.’

Two days after his body was found, officers conducted a thorough search of the family home and found a number of books about murder.

Suspicion began to grow over Rikki’s mother Ruth, who neighbours said was neglectful and sometimes abusive towards her son.

DCI White said: ‘They clearly started to look at…..if she’s capable of [abuse], then what else was she capable of?’

He added: ‘The inquiry identified particularly that Rikki bore the brunt of her poor parenting.’

DC Hills said: ‘I’ve been interviewing for 18 years. Ruth was interviewed over the same things. I think that was a strategic effort o get her to admit to the offence. That borders on oppression. That was excessive.

‘Clearly she was never going to break, because she wasn’t responsible.’

DC Hills described how the team spoke to one woman, Sylvia Clarry, a neighbour who described seeing James Watson with Rikki.

DCI White added: ‘She is able to name James Watson because she knows his dad. It makes for a really positive identification of who was with Rikki…’

Rikki’s mother Ms Neave was charged with her son’s murder in 1996.

The trial hinged on the evidence of a policeman who searched the woods where Rikki would later be found.

At the time he found nothing, with prosecutors claiming the officer had initially missed the body because it was dark.

It was claimed the body had been washed of vital evidence in the time it took to find it.

A judge ordered a jury to acquit Ms Neave if they believed his testimony, because it meant she would not have time to have moved the body after that point because the police were already with her.

After being found not guilty of murder at trial, she later admitted cruelty towards her son.

Watson was interviewed during the original investigation into the murder but ‘did not mention’ to police that he had physically ‘picked up’ Rikki on the day he died. 

At the time the cold case inquiry was opened, prosecutors initially felt there was still insufficient evidence to prosecute, but reversed their decision after Ms Neave and Rikki’s sisters called for a victims’ right to review. 

Key evidence 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.

Officers told how a neighbour identified then 13-year-old James as being with Rikki on the day he died (pictured) 


When Neave (pictured left with her son in the late 1980s and right at his funeral) was found not guilty of her son’s murder in 1996, the question of who did kill Rikki would remain unanswered for more than 25 years

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.

At the age of 13, he became obsessed with the fantasy of strangling a little boy, even telling his mother he had heard a news report about it on the radio. 

But his web of lies and constantly changing alibis which helped him evade justice for 28 years mean much about the murder still remains unclear – including whether he knew Rikki prior to the killing. 

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

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.


Rikki is pictured left with his father Trevor Harvey. Harvey ended his relationship with Rikki’s mother when his son was aged three. Right: A beaming Rikki during his short life

Watson, who has a long criminal record for convictions including stealing cars, fled to Portugal while on bail on suspicion of murder, but was extradited back to Britain.

Watson, now 41, was found guilty of murder in April by a jury who deliberated for 36 hours and 31 minutes to reach a majority verdict after an 11-week trial. 

The judge, 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 murder.’

Watson showed no emotion as he was sentenced.

The judge said he would only ever be released after serving the minimum term of 15 years – minus two years and four months already spent on remand – and once the Parole Board was satisfied he would no longer present a risk to the public.

He was jailed for life with a minimum term of 15 years for the murder of six-year-old Rikki in June. 

How Rikki Neave’s killer almost got away with it: Murder-obsessed teenager kept dead pheasants in his room and masturbated over children’s clothes and then fled to Europe as net closed after police found his DNA in cold case review in 2015 

By Rory Tingle, Home Affairs Correspondent for MailOnline

A petty criminal who lied about being a policeman’s son was last month found guilty of murdering schoolboy Rikki Neave, finally bringing the killer to justice after nearly 30 years.

James Watson, 40, a convicted arsonist with ‘morbid fantasies’ and a ‘sexual interest’ in small children, strangled Rikki, six, before leaving his naked body in a star shape in woodland in Peterborough in 1994. 

Watson had long evaded the authorities before a cold case review in 2015 used new scientific techniques to identify his DNA on Rikki’s clothes, which had been dumped in a wheelie bin near the murder scene.

It gave a chilling new context to disturbing behaviour that had included keeping a dead pheasant in his room and being caught pleasuring himself over kids’ clothing.

After he had murdered him, Watson made photocopies of the Peterborough Evening Telegraph with the front page dominated by a picture of a smiling Rikki as sick trophies.

When police questioned him following the breakthrough Watson – who the trial was told was gay and HIV positive – implicated himself by mistake.

He tried to explain away the DNA being there by claiming he had helped Rikki up to peer over a fence at some diggers – but detectives knew there had never been a fence at the time of the murder.

After the appalling killing between November 1998 and October 2008 Watson was convicted of a series of crimes, including carrying a loaded air rifle in public, engaging in sexual activity in a public lavatory, and stealing from his father’s house while his dad was in hospital.

He also had theft and burglary convictions – 17 for theft, eleven for burglary.

In 2009, he forced entry to an unmanned British Transport Police station, stole equipment and set it on fire.

The killer, who grew up in care, absconded following his arrest over Rikki’s death in 2016 by taking a ferry to the Continent, and would go on to taunt police by sharing a string of holiday photos from Portugal showing him drinking beer, sun-bathing and even posing nude. 

James Watson, 40, was found guilty of murdering schoolboy Rikki Neave nearly 30 years ago. He is pictured in 2016 after fleeing to Europe following his arrest

Watson fled the UK in a mobile home, boasting to a friend: ‘The best thing is I don’t even have a passport. I just walked out of our country’ 

Watson boasted in one message: ‘The best thing is I don’t even have a passport. I just walked out of our country. 

‘Me and a mate left the UK in a mobile home. Booked it on the ferry, drove on and that was that. No checks, nothing.’ 

But his plans to flee to Thailand soon collapsed, and he sent emails to his probation officer begging to be helped back home after he ended up homeless and wandering the streets of Portugal. 

On July 14, he contacted his probation officer by email telling them he wanted to return to the UK.

The next day, Watson’s probation officer replied: ‘Whereabouts are you? How can we support you getting back to the UK?’

Watson wrote back: ‘I am in a world of sh**, I left with that Collin under the assumption that he was going to Thailand and I could see a bit of Europe for a few days.

‘It never turned out like that.

‘Now I am homeless and living on the streets in Europe.

Watson strangled Rikki, six, before leaving his naked body in a star shape in woodland in Peterborough in 1994

‘I stayed in a room with some people I met but that was not long term now I don’t know what my next plan should be?

The probation officer referred the matter to the police.

Detective Sergeant Gan Thayanithy sent an email to Watson that same day.

On August 2, Watson was arrested in Lisbon at the Consulate building, he consented to the extradition and he returned to the UK ten days later.

Two years later in April 2018, Watson was convicted of a sexual assault in which he briefly touched the penis of a man over his clothing while he was asleep.

Watson said he intended to do this, but he woke up ‘completely disgusted with myself’. 

Watson’s trial heard disturbing details about his fascination with murder and dead animals, with a former girlfriend telling how he once killed a sparrow with a stone.  

Watson had long evaded the authorities before a cold case review in 2015 used new scientific techniques to identify his DNA on Rikki’s clothes, including this jacket

Rikki’s clothes and shoes (pictured) had been dumped in a wheelie bin near the murder scene

A white shirt worn by Rikki, who was stripped naked and deliberately posed in a star shape after his death

A small pair of sock worn by the six-year-old schoolboy, who was killed in a ‘swiftly executed’ attack

The muddy trousers recovered from the scene after being dumped into a wheelie bin a short distance from Rikki’s body

Watson’s half-brother, Andrew Bailey, was friends with Rikki’s stepfather Dean Neave, and took Watson to visit the Neave family home ‘a couple of times’ when he was aged 11 or 12. 

Mr Bailey went on to ‘distance’ himself from Watson after he told him he was gay at the age of 11. 

In 2016, Watson admitted to sexually assaulting a five-year-old boy in April 1993, when he was 12.

Asked why he kept a dead carcass of a pheasant at the children’s home, he said he was ‘against animal cruelty’ but found the iridescence of pheasant feathers ‘fascinating’. 

Watson’s defence depended on casting doubt on the evidence he murdered Rikki and suggesting the child’s abusive mother, Ruth, had been responsible instead. 

However, Ruth was cleared of her son’s murder 26 years ago, and the jury in Watson’s case found there was enough evidence to convict him.  

Prosecutor John Price QC set out a detailed version of the events of November 28, 1994 that would end with Rikki’s sexually motivated murder. 

Mr Price told jurors that the pair were seen walking from the city’s Welland Estate. 

‘It was a sunny late autumn day and they were going to a place both of them knew well and both had visited many times before, at least during daylight — they were going to the woods,’ he said. 

Watson’s defence had depended on casting doubt on the evidence he murdered Rikki and suggesting the child’s abusive mother, Ruth, had been responsible instead 

Watson’s trial heard disturbing details about his fascination with murder and dead animals, with a former girlfriend telling how he once killed a sparrow with a stone

The killer – who grew up in care and was described as ‘vulnerable’ – is pictured as a child 

‘Some time after the two boys arrived in the wood, from behind and without warning James Watson ambushed Rikki Neave and strangled him to death using a ligature, whether it was the collar of the jacket Rikki was wearing or something applied on the collar.

‘Rikki was wearing the jacket when he died and it was still zipped up because the zip left a telltale mark on his neck.

‘James Watson then stripped the child’s body. He had an abiding sexual interest in small children which he had already acted on in the previous year, an interest reinforced with a morbid fantasy about the death of a child known to have been on his mind as recently as three days earlier.’ 

Mr Price said one of Rikki’s shirt buttons came off and was placed on a nearby leaf as Watson ‘did whatever he was doing’.

Watson then posed Rikki’s body ‘much as he did with a dead bird’ he killed months later, before taking Rikki’s clothes and dumping them in a bin. 

Afterwards, Watson became ‘fascinated by the consequences of his own act’, copying newspaper stories on Rikki’s death, Mr Price said.

But when he talked to teachers he did not reveal he had been with Rikki that day, only mentioning it to police when they called days later, the court was told.

Rikki was murdered near his home in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire on December 5, 1994 and his body was dumped in some nearby woods, circled

His account was not questioned or challenged for more than two decades, during which time Watson acquired a ‘considerable amount of forensic experience’, Mr Price said.

Before police told him about the DNA link to Rikki’s clothes, Watson had prepared an explanation — that he had picked him up to look through a hole in a fence, Mr Price suggested.

The prosecutor said: ‘He would tell them how, all these years later, the memory of the little boy peering through the hole in the fence still made him chuckle when it came to his mind.’

That was, Mr Price said, Watson’s ‘really big mistake because it never occurred to him all these years later it would be possible to conclusively prove that the high fence was not there’ on the day Rikki was murdered.

In a police interview in April 2016, Watson admitted to sexually assaulting a five-year-old boy in April 1993, when he was 12.

Asked about the admission at his murder trial, the killer pleaded ignorance. Later, he broke down and tearfully told the court: ‘I’m a complete a***hole’. 

 

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