By Claire Gordon • 19 January 2022 • 23:44
A ‘police error’ allegedly left a child murder case unsolved for more than two decades, a court has heard this week. A teenager murdered a six-year-old boy and then posed his naked body while leaving it to be found in the woods but was never fully investigated by officers.
James Watson was just 13 when he allegedly strangled Rikki Neave with his own jacket in a ‘surprise attack’. He then allegedly stripped the boy’s body and posed him in a ‘star shape’ before dumping his clothes in a nearby bin.
The now 40-year-old was seen with the victim on November 28, 1994 — the day he went missing. He was also spoken to as a witness at the time of the killing.
However, the police only focused on Rikki’s mother, Ruth, according to statements given at trial yesterday, 18 January. She was eventually charged with the murder of her son six months after his body was found, just a five-minute walk from their Peterborough home.
She was cleared of the crime in 1996. The prosecutor in the latest trial told jurors this was the right decision. John Price QC said detectives gave too much weight to sightings of Rikki at a time when ‘reliable evidence’ showed he was already dead.
“Much of this evidence was acquired during the first investigation but its true significance and importance was misunderstood or ignored,” he told the Old Bailey.
“This fundamental error deflected the focus of attention of the investigation. It took it away from where it should have been.”
As a result of the police error, Rikki’s murder remained a mystery until 2015 when a cold case review was opened, Mr Price said.
It was DNA evidence collected at the time of his death but checked using new methods that led back to Watson. Rikki’s body was found posed deliberately by his killer, with no clothes, in woodland where he used to play with his friends.
Watson, whose father lived on the same estate, was in care and playing truant from school when he was spotted playing with Rikki on the day of the killing, jurors heard.
In his interview prior to the police error in December 1994, he admitted being in Rotherby Grove with the young child, saying they exchanged a few words. Mr Price claimed Watson had lied to the police about the timing of their encounter.
He told jurors: “He knew it had been earlier. He was indeed still with Rikki at 12.30 pm, but by then they were no longer in Rotherby Grove. By then, Rikki Neave was almost certainly already dead, and James Watson was still in the wood, keeping company with a child’s corpse.”
Watson, who has no fixed address, denies murder, as reported by The Metro. The trial continues.
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