A 41-year-old man has been sentenced to life with a minimum sentence of 15 years for the murder of schoolboy Rikki Neave, who was found strangled in a forest near by Peterborough almost 28 years ago.
James Watson, without permanent residence, was convicted in April at Old Bailey in London of the murder in 1994 after a DNA breakthrough in 2016 revealed that as a 13-year-old he had been in physical contact with the six-year-old boy on the day of his disappearance.
Watson, who has a wide range of previous convictions, including sexual assault, avoided discovery for more than two decadesand changed his account of his interactions with Neave as evidence piled up against him.
Mrs Justice McGowan sentenced Watson on Friday as if he were a teenager, as required by law, and told him he must spend at least 15 years in prison before being considered for release.
The sentencing ends a mystery in which Rikki’s mother, Ruth Neave, was acquitted of her murder in 1996, removing the suspicion that had haunted her after she pleaded guilty to a number of child molestation offenses against the boy. a conviction which she will now overturn.
Ruth Neave, who did not attend the sentencing, issued a statement afterwards condemning Watson’s actions.
“The monster James Watson not only murdered my precious son Rikki, but set in motion a chain of events that has ruined my and my children’s lives,” she said. “Like stone falling into a pond, it has waved far and wide.”
She added: “Thanks to you, James Watson, Rikki will never grow up to be a sweet young man or have children or be an uncle.
“I miss my little Rikki; I miss all his giggles and laughter and he was my little hero taking care of others. He was thoughtful, kind and funny. “
She said Watson’s actions led to her children being “dirty” from her arms because “the police were so adamant that I had killed Rikki and then wanted to kill my daughters”.
“I lost my children and my freedom, and then I had to start all over again and still be branded and called a killer, also by Rikki’s siblings,” she said.
“My family was completely devastated. I have not seen my daughters for over 26 years. I have missed that they grew up, dropped out of school, their first boyfriends and now my grandchildren.”
Watson lured Rikki to the woods near his home in Peterborough and strangled him for fulfilling a “morbid fantasy,” the court heard. He undressed Rikki and placed his naked body in a star shape for sexual gratification, and deliberately “exhibited” him near a forest cave for children.
Watson was a persistent prankster, and those who knew him at the time have since described unusual behavior that paints a picture of a troubled boy.
Police investigated an allegation that he had touched a five-year-old boy indecently, while others who knew him claimed that he had masturbated over pictures of young children and repeatedly put his hands around the neck of a teenage girl during sex.
He also seemed to have a grotesque interest in the subject of child murder.
McGowan, who convicted Watson, said: “Rikki was a child who was too willing to trust and engage with strangers.
“He never had the chance to be happy and live a normal and fulfilling life. This opportunity was denied him by his murder.”