The mother of schoolboy Rikki Neave has denied a catalogue of abuse against her son, including squirting washing up liquid in his mouth and grabbing him around the neck as “punishment for being naughty”.
Rikki, aged six, was strangled and then posed naked in woods near his Peterborough home in November 1994.
His mother Ruth Neave was cleared of his murder but admitted child cruelty, for which she was sentenced to seven years in prison, the Old Bailey heard.
Rikki’s death remained a mystery for more than 20 years until a DNA breakthrough allegedly pointing to James Watson, a local boy then aged 13, who was seen with the victim on the day he went missing.
Watson, now aged 40, of no fixed address, has denied Rikki’s murder.
On Tuesday, Watson’s barrister Jennifer Dempster QC suggested Rikki bore the brunt of his mother’s cruelty as she outlined a series of incidents.
At the age of three years and nine months, Rikki was left screaming after he was locked out of the house in his pyjamas, jurors heard. Ms Neave allegedly went on to hold her son around his neck in front of police officers until he went “red in the face”.
On a visit to a chemists, she allegedly “thumped Rikki with such force he went flying out the door”. And on another occasion, Ms Neave allegedly held Rikki upside down on a bridge as he screamed.
She also grabbed Rikki around the throat, pushed him against a wall and lifted him up “to the point his feet were about a foot above the ground”, Ms Dempster said.
The defence lawyer suggested that Ms Neave would grab Rikki around the neck and push him against a wall “as a punishment for being naughty”.
The witness repeatedly denied the incidents happened.
Mum 'squeezed Fairy liquid into son's mouth'
Ms Dempster went on to describe an incident in August 1994 when the witness “lost her temper” after Rikki called her a “slag”.
She said: “I suggest you grabbed him, forced him against the wall, you pushed his head back, you forcibly opened his mouth and you put a bottle of washing up liquid into it and then you squeezed it.”
Ms Neave responded: “No, that never happened. I put some Fairy liquid into his mouth but it was empty.”
Ms Dempster asked: “Did he say ‘sorry mum, I love you’ before he vomited?”
Ms Neave replied: “No, he did not vomit.”
Ms Dempster said: “You told the jury last Thursday that you got told to plead guilty, that you were bullied into it, you did not know what you were pleading guilty to. Why did you plead guilty?”
Ms Neave replied: “I thought I was pleading guilty to just smacking the children and that’s it.”
Ms Dempster asked: “You were told if you do not plead guilty to the cruelty charges you may go away for the murder for a very long time?
“And so it comes to this that you now say in 2022 you were not guilty of the cruelty and neglect charges, save that you smacked your children from time to time?”
Ms Neave said: “Yes, it is actually, if you don’t mind.”
The lawyer said: “That, Ms Neave, is nonsense.”
The witness replied: “It is not nonsense.”
'Wholly unfit to be mother'
Ms Dempster went on: “The judge told you you were guilty of appalling and systematic cruelty to your children, and he was right.
"The judge described you as wholly unfit to be a mother, and that’s the truth.
"The judge told you that the harm you had done to your children was incalculable.”
Ms Neave repeatedly denied the barrister’s claims.
Ms Dempster said: “The judge told you he had to impose a sentence to reflect just how serious your offending was. What sentence were you expecting for the cruelty?”
The witness replied: “Probation, that’s what I got told by my solicitor.”
Ms Dempster said: “You must have been horrified when the judge sentenced you to seven years’ imprisonment because in your mind all you had done was smacked your children?”
Ms Neave, who has had no contact with her children since, replied: “To put it bluntly, yeah.”
Drug taking allegations
The witness went on to admit having taken “dope” and “speed” but said she stopped when she was pregnant.
She denied that she would inject speed six or seven times a day or that she had taken drugs the night before Rikki went missing.
She admitted dealing in speed until October 1994 to “feed the kids”.
Ms Dempster said: “I suggest it’s well known and it’s true you were using the children to collect drugs.”
Ms Neave, who gave evidence by video link, replied: “I never used the children to get drugs for me.”
The trial continues.