Rikki Neave: Murdered schoolboy's 27-year wait for justice

  • Matthew Hudson of ITV News on the unsolved murder that haunted a generation

He was the little boy who went out to play - and never came home.

Rikki Neave's disappearance in November 1994 sparked a police manhunt, a media frenzy, and a search for justice that would last 27 years.

The discovery of the six-year-old's body less than 24 hours later, in woodland near his home in Peterborough - naked and arranged in a star shape - captured international attention and spawned dark, occult conspiracy theories in an age before the internet.

Police swiftly charged his mother Ruth with his murder. When a jury found her not guilty at trial, police said they would not be looking for anyone else - and the trail to find Rikki's killer went cold for nearly 20 years.

It took a dramatic plea from his mother in November 2014 - the 20th anniversary of Rikki's death - for police to reopen the investigation.

Fresh eyes and modern technology allowed the new team to see clues in the evidence that had evaded the original investigators - and led them to question James Watson, a boy from Rikki's estate who would have been just 13 at the time of the murder.

He admitted he had seen Rikki on the morning he went missing - but detectives found the crucial details to prove his excuses were lies.

After a four-month trial in early 2022, James Watson - now a 41-year-old man - was found guilty of the murder of Rikki Neave, finally closing the case on one of the country's longest-running unsolved child murders.

For most of his career, ITV News Anglia reporter Matthew Hudson has followed the case. Speaking to ITV News' Here's The Story, he reflects on a murder that haunted a generation.

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