Rikki was just six years old when he was strangled by 13-year-old James Watson, now 41 – the second person to stand trial for his murder
Heart-breaking tributes have been paid to tragic Rikki Neave, whose killer was finally convicted this week after a three-decade fight for justice.
Rikki was just six years old when he was strangled by 13-year-old James Watson, now 41 – the second person to stand trial for his murder after Rikki’s mother Ruth was cleared by a jury in 1996.
A teaching assistant at Rikki and Watson’s old primary school described little Rikki as a “darling”, saying the case has brought back bad memories.
A former teaching assistant at Welland Primary School in Peterborough, said: “Rikki was lovely, he was a typical six-year-old boy. He was a darling. He was sweet.
“What is coming up now is bringing back bad memories.
“Ricky was in school the day before he was found.
“He was always at school a bit earlier than everyone else. School started at 9am and he was always there between 8am and half past. He would come on his own from him or with his sister from him.
“Most days no matter the weather he would come without a coat, just used to come in his jumper.
“This particular day he didn’t turn up.”
Rikki disappeared on November 28 1994 and his naked body was found in woods in a star-shaped position near his Peterborough home the following day.
The court heard how sick Watson stripped Rikki and used the helpless child to fulfill a “morbid” fantasy told to his mother three days before the killing.
The teacing assistant, who did not want to be named, still remembers that day vividly, saying: “When we were told we were absolutely gobsmacked. We just couldn’t believe what had happened.
“It was a foggy Thursday morning. When we were told we were all down on a low and the children were all sad. It was awful.
“He didn’t deserve what he got.”
Watson, who has evaded justice for more than 28 years, was convicted by majority verdict at the Old Bailey on Thursday.
They deliberated for 36 hours and 31 minutes following the 11-week trial.
A string of blunders by blinkered detectives originally led to Rikki’s mother being charged with his murder.
Forty-five key exhibits were lost or discarded by Cambridgeshire Police, including the coat used to strangle Rikki and the rest of the clothing he was wearing at the time of his death.
Ruth Neave was cleared by a jury in 1996 but sentenced to seven years in jail after admitting child abuse, leaving the question of who killed Rikki unanswered for another 25 years.
Neave was described in Watson’s trial as a “wholly unfit mother” who used Rikki as a drug runner and “punch bag”.
On one occasion, Rikki was allegedly left screaming after being locked out of the house in his pajamas and the family were well known to local social services.
The court heard that Rikki’s mother grabbed him by the throat, pushed him against a wall and lifted him up “to the point his feet were about a foot above the ground”.
Pauline said Rikki’s mother was “evil” while another local resident described him as “hungry all the time”.
Keith Johnson, 73, whose daughters went to school with Watson and Rikki, said: “My eldest daughter was in the same class as James at Welland Academy. He wasn’t a special guy.
“The girls used to walk to school with Rikki.
“He was on the streets and hungry all the time. He wasn’t very well at all.
“There were so many rumours. They said Rikki was a drug runner for his mum.
A cold case investigation into Rikki’s murder was opened in 2015 and Watson was arrested after a match was made between his DNA profile and samples taken from Rikki’s clothing.
In a statement, Rikki’s mother described Watson as a “monster.”
He will be sentenced on May 9.