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RUTH NEAVE — A Mother Falsely Accused

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of this site. This site does not give financial, investment or medical advice.

Twenty-seven years ago, Ruth Neave’s six year old son was murdered. In 1996, she stood trial for that murder and was acquitted, although the unspoken consensus was that she was guilty and had gotten away with it. On Thursday, that cloud of suspicion was lifted forever when a man was convicted of killing Rikki Neave. If the acquittal of Ruth Neave was surprising, the eventual conviction of James Watson was even more so, because he was just thirteen years old at the time.

Rikki Neave disappeared on his way to school in November 1994. Although his body was found naked and posed indicating a sex killer and possibly a nascent serial killer, his mother was a good suspect. For example, in January 2008, Penny Boudreau strangled her 12 year old daughter with a length of twine and dumped her body in the river naked to give the impression the poor girl had been targeted by a sexual predator.

The Neaves lived on what has been called a sink estate, the Welland Estate in Peterborough. Ruth Neave also had three daughters; husband Dean was Rikki’s stepfather. At the time of the murder he was in Bedford Prison serving a sentence for multiple though non-violent offences. In November 1996, he was given a three year sentence for drug dealing and bigamy! In October 1999, he was killed in a car crash.

Ruth Neave was a bad mother. She was, if not a drug addict then a heavy user of illegal drugs, and what sort of mother allows a six year old to walk to school on his own? She came under suspicion almost at once, from her neighbours as much as from the police. Those suspicions intensified when it came to light that she had written a manuscript about serial killers. Rikki had  not been sexually interfered with as far as could be ascertained, so that was another indication, and the icing on the cake was her admission that she had actually threatened to strangle the boy the previous day. How much evidence does it take to convict a woman of murder?

In spite of all that and in spite of the deluge of adverse publicity, when she stood trial at Northampton Crown Court after more than a year and a half on remand, she was found not guilty of murder but was given a total of seven years for child cruelty and other offences.

Although she was clearly a good suspect, she was far from the only one. Rikki was seen with five boys around the time of his death, but on December 6, 1994, it was revealed they had been cleared of any involvement. Two older teenagers were also arrested and held briefly.

In spite of the police saying they were not looking for anyone else after her acquittal, Ruth Neave never gave up on finding his killer. She and her new husband were reported to have bought the police file on the case, and on the twentieth anniversary of Rikki’s death, she made a public appeal. In February 2015, it was reported that a cold case review had been implemented by Cambridgeshire Police. The following June, a new investigation was launched. In November 2015, the case was covered by the Crimewatch UK TV programme. A reward was also offered. In April the following year, an arrest was reported, the suspect being bailed shortly. Three months later, it was reported he had left the country for Portugal, at which point he was named as James Watson. He was arrested at the beginning of August 2016 and was extradited later the same month. In October 2017, he was released from prison and police bail.

Later, it was reported that Watson was to face no charges in connection with the murder, which probably made him think he was in the clear, but in February 2020 it was further reported that he had been rearrested and charged.

With the covid situation it is hardly surprising that he wasn’t brought to trial at the Central Criminal Court until January this year, and even less surprising that new DNA techniques featured heavily in his conviction. The then 13 year old Watson had actually been seen with Rikki on the morning of his death and had admitted as such, but he was only ever a person of interest as they say in America rather than a suspect.

The defence strategy was to retry Ruth Neave for her son’s murder but after 36 hours and 31 minutes of deliberation, the jury found him guilty by a majority verdict.


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of this site. This site does not give financial, investment or medical advice.

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April 22, 2022

One of few posts I found informative and without acute predudice. I was not in the uk so it was news to me. From the press I was amazed that they would profile a Mother for such ritual but if she killed another child in the way you describe, i can see how that would lead plod to her as favorite. At least in her case the jury system worked pretty well. As for the real killer it is hard to imagine what combination of conditions could produce such psychosis? Ps, I walked or cycled to school every day; the… Read more »

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