Schoolboy Rikki Neave killed in 1994 in Peterborough was 'strangled with his own coat'

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A six-year-old boy who went missing more than 25 years ago was "strangled with his own jacket" before his naked body was left posed in a star shape in woods, a court has heard.

Rikki Neave disappeared on 28 November 1994 on his way to school in Cambridgeshire and was found dead the next day.

More than two decades on, James Watson, who was aged just 13 at the time, has gone on trial accused of his murder.

Opening their case at the Old Bailey, prosecutors told a jury the teenager, now aged 40, launched a "surprise attack" on Rikki and strangled him with his own jacket.

They claim he then stripped the boy's body and posed him in a "star shape" in woodland in Peterborough.

James Watson when he was a child. Credit: SWNS

Prosecutor John Price QC said it was a place where Rikki and his friends used to play and was just a five-minute walk from his home on the Welland Estate.

Mr Price said: "He had been strangled. The body was naked. It was lying on the ground, flat on its back.

"It had been deliberately posed by the killer, in a star shape, with outstretched arms, and his legs placed wide apart.

James Watson, right, on the first day of his murder trial Credit: Elizabeth Cook/PA

"There was no sign of any of Rikki's clothing. But perched poignantly on a leaf, just 18 inches from the left hand was a single, small, white shirt button."

The remainder of his school uniform was later found dumped in a wheelie bin.

Mr Price said the laces on his black shoes were still tied, his underwear and socks were rolled up in his jacket and three small white buttons were missing from his shirt. In the right-hand pocket of the jacket were two small plastic toys and some cards.

Watson was seen with the victim on the day he went missing and was spoken to by police as a witness at the time, the Old Bailey was told. But it was not until 20 years later than his DNA was found on Rikki's clothes, the court heard.

Mother was accused of murder

At the start of Watson's trial on Tuesday, jurors heard a recording of Ruth Neave's 999 call to report her son missing on the evening of November 28 1994.

Six months later, Rikki's mother was charged with murder and child cruelty.

While she admitted cruelty, she always denied having anything to do with Rikki's death and was unanimously acquitted at Northampton Crown Court in October 1996.

Ruth Neave, mother of Rikki Neave, pictured in 1995. Credit: Press Association

Mr Price told the Old Bailey jurors that had been the correct verdict as she could not have done it.

He suggested the "error" was largely down to incorrect weight being given to sightings of Rikki at a time when reliable evidence showed he was already dead.

Mr Price said: "This fundamental error deflected the focus of attention of the investigation. It took it away from where it should have been."

Cold-case team investigation

Following the acquittal of Mrs Neave, the case remained unsolved and it was not until 2015 that a cold case team re-opened the investigation.

Adhesive tapings from Rikki's clothes were examined and a DNA match to Watson was allegedly made.

Prosecutors said the defendant had been seen with Rikki on the morning of 28 November 1994 and was spoken to by police on the day the body was found, the court heard.

Police vans at the scene following the discovery of Rikki Neave's body in 1994. Credit: Press Association

Mr Price said a combination of evidence showed Rikki had walked willingly into the woods where he was subjected to a "surprise attack" from behind.

At 1.05pm, a youth was seen walking out of a cul-de-sac where Rikki's clothes were later recovered.

Mr Price said marks on Rikki's neck indicated he was "most likely" strangled by his own jacket and then his body stripped.

He also told jurors that in late November 1994, Watson was "exhibiting a grotesque interest in the subject of child murder".

Watson, of no fixed address, has denied murder.