The ‘whimsical monster’ who strangled a boy to death in 1994 has finally been jailed for life

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A “whimsical freak” who strangled six-year-old schoolboy Rikki Neave to death in 1994 has finally been brought to justice and sentenced to life in prison – serving at least 15 years.

Appearing in court today in a light short-sleeved shirt, dark tie and trousers, the judge told James Watson he must serve a minimum sentence of 15 years.

He was convicted for the age he was at the time of the murder.

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Watson, 41, was just 13 on November 28, 1994 when he lured young Rikki into woods in Peterborough before murdering him.

The twisted killer strangled Rikki using a ligature or anorak necklace before stripping him naked and “exposing” him in a star shape for his own sexual gratification.



James Watson was finally sentenced to life today after 28 years on the run

Watson had told his mother about the “morbid fantasy” three days prior.

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He was found guilty in April this year at the Old Bailey in London following a crucial TAUT breakthrough in 2016 linking him to Rikki’s discarded clothes.

Watson has previous convictions for sexual assault, car theft and setting fire to a British transport police station.

Police initially suspected that Rikki’s mother, Ruth Neave, had killed her own son, but she was acquitted after a trial in 1996.

She previously admitted to a series of child cruelty offenses against the six-year-old.



Rikki's sister Sheradyn Neave (left) said in April the family had been
Rikki’s sister Sheradyn Neave (left) said in April the family had been ‘abandoned’ by police and social services

In a statement read at sentencing today, Neave said: ‘I know I hit him when he was mean but I hated it. I couldn’t tell him without.

“Yeah, I used to yell at him and swear, but that never killed him did it?

“I had my children ripped from my arms in the middle of the night because the police were so adamant that I had killed Rikki and would then kill my daughters.

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“I feel dead inside, he was the only son I had.”



An ex-girlfriend of Watson said he once recreated the murder with a bird
An ex-girlfriend of Watson said he once recreated the murder with a bird

After 36 hours and 31 minutes of jury deliberation, Watson was found guilty of murder in April.

Watson was back at the Old Bailey today when Mrs Justice McGowan sentenced him to life.

Previously, the court heard about his disturbing behavior as a child.

While in a children’s home, he masturbated to pictures of young boys and kept a dead pheasant in his bedroom.

He was also questioned by police in 1993 about the alleged assault of a five-year-old child.



Watson fled to Portugal while on bail on suspicion of murder, but was extradited to Britain
Watson fled to Portugal while on bail on suspicion of murder, but was extradited to Britain

After Rikki’s body was found, the court heard that Watson was obsessed with newspaper coverage and copied front-page stories at school.

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A key part of Watson’s unraveling story was a 2016 police interview, when he tried to explain his TAUT was on Rikki’s clothes by saying he had taken the child to watch diggers through a hole in a fence.

Police proved the fence wasn’t there in 1994, with prosecutor John Price QC saying it was his “very big mistake”.

Her legal team tried unsuccessfully to point fingers at Rikki’s mother throughout the trial.



Rikki's sister Rochelle Neave hailed April's decision as a
Rikki’s sister Rochelle Neave hailed April’s decision as a ‘victory’ for the family

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Former Deputy Police Chief Paul Fullwood, who led the cold case, said Watson was “a fantasy, a dangerous individual and a compulsive liar”.

“Throughout this it has been a monumental series of challenges. But as far as we are concerned, we have the right person responsible for the appalling murder of this little boy Rikki Neave,” he added.

Speaking to Watson today, but not using her name, Rikki’s sister Rebecca Harvey said: “After all these years of living, you finally get your reward, and Rikki Lee Harvey finally gets justice.”

If you or someone you know has been affected by this story, contact Victim Support for free, confidential advice on 08 08 16 89 111 or visit their website, www.victimsupport.org.uk.

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