A 41-year-old man has been sentenced to life with a minimum term of 15 years for the murder of schoolboy Rikki Neave, who was found strangled almost 28 years ago in woods near Peterborough.
James Watson, of no fixed abode, was convicted in April at the Old Bailey in London for the 1994 murder after a DNA breakthrough in 2016 revealed that he had been in physical contact with the six-year-old boy at the age of 13. day of his disappearance.
Watson, who has a long list of past convictions, including sexual assault, evaded detection for more than two decades and changed his account of his interactions with Neave as evidence piling up against him.
Ms McGowan on Friday convicted Watson as if he were a teenager, as required by law, and told him he must spend at least 15 years in prison before he is eligible for release.
The conviction ends a cold case mystery in which Rikki’s mother, Ruth Neave, was acquitted of his 1996 murder, allaying the suspicion that had haunted her after she pleaded guilty to a series of child crimes against the boy, a conviction whom she now wants to overthrow.
Ruth Neave, who did not attend the sentencing, subsequently released a statement condemning Watson’s actions.
“The monster James Watson not only killed my precious son Rikki, but also set in motion a series of events that ruined my life and that of my children,” she said. “Like stones falling into a pond, it ripples far and wide.”
She added: “Thanks to you, James Watson, Rikki will never grow up to be a nice young man or have children or become an uncle.
“I miss my little Rikki; I miss all his giggles and laughter and he was my little hero and took care of others. He was attentive, friendly and funny.”
She said Watson’s actions led to her children being “snatched” from her arms because “the police were so adamant that I killed Rikki and then killed my daughters.”
“I lost my kids and my freedom and then I had to start all over again, still labeled and called a murderer, also by Rikki’s siblings,” she said.
“My family has been completely destroyed. I haven’t seen my daughters in over 26 years. I missed them growing up, leaving school, their first boyfriends and now my grandchildren.”
Watson lured Rikki into woods near his home in Peterborough and strangled him to fulfill a “morbid fantasy,” the court heard. He undressed Rikki and posed his naked body in a star shape for sexual gratification, deliberately ‘displaying’ him near a children’s forest den.
Watson was constantly skipping school and those who knew him then have since described unusual behavior that paints a picture of a troubled boy.
Police were investigating an allegation that he had indecently touched a five-year-old boy, while others who knew him claimed he had masturbated over images of young children, and repeatedly put his hands around a teenage girl’s neck during sex.
He also appeared to have a grotesque interest in the subject of infanticide.
McGowan, who condemned Watson, said: “Rikki was a kid who was too willing to trust and interact with strangers.
“He never had the chance to be happy and live a normal and fulfilling life. That opportunity was taken away from him by his murder.”