4 Jul 2022, 20:02
4 Jul 2022, 11:59
Rikki Neave was just six years old when he was murdered in truly horrifying circumstances – but why did the police suspect his mum Ruth?
And why was she sentenced to seven years in jail after his death?
In 2022, 27 years after Rikki was killed, a judge finally convicted James Watson of the crime.
So what happened to Rikki Neave’s mum Ruth, where is she now, and what has she said about her son’s death?
Here’s everything you need to know, as a special 24 Hours in Police Custody airs about the harrowing true crime case (Monday July 04 2022).
***Warning: contains distressing details about Rikki Neave’s murder***
Rikki Neave was murdered in horrifying circumstances when he was just six years old (Credit: Shutterstock)
What happened to Rikki Neave?
Rikki Neave was just six years old when he was strangled to death near his home in Peterborough in 1994.
He disappeared on Monday November 28 1994, and was last seen leaving for school at around 9am from his home in Redmile Walk, Welland Estate.
A day later, his body was discovered dead in undergrowth.
His corpse had been left in a wooded area off Eye Road, close to Willoughby Court, just five minutes away from his home.
Sickeningly, Rikki was found naked and posed star-shaped with his arms outstretched and legs wide apart.
A post-mortem examination concluded he was strangled with the zip of his anorak hood.
Who killed Rikki Neave?
James Watson murdered schoolboy Rikki Neave in cold blood.
He was 13 when he committed the heinous act.
Horrifyingly, he walked free for 27 years until police finally captured him.
James’ name cropped up during the original 1994 investigation.
Witnesses told police they had spotted James Watson playing with Rikki on the day of the killing.
But, at the time, James told police he had “never been anywhere near Rikki Neave”.
He was later exposed as a liar, sexual deviant and murderer.
Rikki Neave’s mum Ruth was clear of his murder (Credit: Terry Harris/Shutterstock)
Was Rikki Neave neglected?
Sadly, Rikki Neave was known to Cambridgeshire social services as a vulnerable child.
He was on the county’s Child Protection Register, and his home life was shockingly deprived.
Social services considered Rikki at risk and he often played truant from school.
After Rikki’s death, his half-sister Rochelle Neave said their early life together was hard.
She said that Rikki was sometimes forced to steal food from the local shop as there was no food in the house.
At the time of his death, Rikki lived with his mother Ruth and two of his three sisters on the Welland Estate in Peterborough.
Rikki’s father, Trevor Harvey, had ended his relationship with Ruth when his son was three.
Ruth’s daughter Rochelle is unable to forgive Ruth.
Rochelle recently told the Mail Online: “Even though she didn’t strangle him, she still let a six-year-old on the streets alone and she neglected him.
“All she was interested in was drugs and men and drink.
“I can’t stand her. I can’t even look at her.
“The things that she’s put us through and our poor brother, how he’s been treated, how he was murdered.”
Ruth has admitted that she dealt drugs to “feed the kids”.
Why did police suspect Rikki Neave’s mum Ruth?
The police first suspected Rikki’s mother, Ruth, because of previous concerns for his welfare.
His troubled mother had a drug habit, and was disliked by many of her neighbours for the way she mistreated her son.
Her apparent interest in crime fiction and the occult also did not help her case.
The finger of suspicion was pointed at Ruth, partly fuelled by intense press interest.
Ruth believes they “fixated” on her, rather than find the real killer.
Police officers arrested Ruth on suspicion of murder, believing her to have been violent towards her son.
The police believed Ruth had been abusive with her son on more than one occasion.
During Ruth’s murder trial in 1996, the jury heard how she had threatened to kill her son.
She was also accused of scrawling “idiot” across his forehead and squirting washing-up liquid in his mouth.
Ruth was subsequently cleared of murdering Rikki.
James Watson was 13 when he killed six-year-old Rikki Neave (Shutterstock)
What did Ruth Neave do?
Ruth Neaves admitted neglecting her son Rikki in 1996.
The judge described her as wholly unfit to be a mother, and that the harm she had done to her children was incalculable.
Ruth subsequently insists she was pressured into admitting neglect.
She now says she smacked her son, but was not cruel or neglectful.
During James Watson’s trial, Ruth told jurors she was “horrified” to be jailed for “smacking” her children.
She also denied a catalogue of abuse, including grabbing Rikki around the neck as “punishment for being naughty”.
On Tuesday February 1, Ruth Neave was cross-examined by James Watson’s barrister Jennifer Dempster QC about why she admitted child cruelty.
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 witness repeatedly denied the incidents happened.
Ruth was accused of pouring washing up liquid into Rikki’s mouth, but she says the bottle was empty.”
She says she “thought she was pleading guilty to just smacking the children and that’s it”.
Why did Rikki Neave’s mum Ruth go to jail?
On January 19 1995, police arrested Ruth on suspicion of murder.
By October 1996, a jury at Northampton Crown Court unanimously acquitted Ruth of her son’s murder.
However, Ruth pleaded guilty to child cruelty and was jailed for seven years.
She later revealed she’d been “bullied’ into confessing she’d been cruel to her son.
She spent most of the seven years in jail.
Ruth was released in 2000.
At the time, many still believed she was guilty of the murder of her son until police found real killer James Watson.
The poster appealing for information after Rikki Neave’s murder (Credit: Geoff Robinson Photography/Shutterstock)
What has Ruth Neave said since the death of Rikki?
The mother of murdered schoolboy Rikki Neave now wants to challenge her 26-year-old conviction for child cruelty offences.
Ruth insists she was advised to plead guilty to all offences – including murder – by her solicitor and denies all allegations.
In a recent interview with The Guardian, Ruth Neave says her health has been damaged, as well as her relationships and reputation.
Hence, she has resolved to attempt to overturn the child cruelty conviction.
She’s revealed that her own life was troubled – she was in care from the age of two.
Her own parents took their own lives in a suicide pact.
At 17, she had her first child with Trevor Harvey, with whom she would also have Rikki.
Harvey, who has since died, was abusive towards her and did not want the responsibility of a child, she says.
She told The Guardian: “Rikki was such a lovely little boy.”
Talking about Rikki’s childhood, she admits her life was “chaotic” and that she “smacked the children”.
But she denies the detail of the cruelty offences: sending Rikki out at night to buy drugs, starving him, torturing him.
She says people made allegations against her for their “15 minutes of fame”.
Ruth adds: “Lots made money out of it, they even turned round and sold pictures of my son to the press.
“It was malicious.”
She’s also said that the years before James Watson’s conviction was “pure hell”.
“What I want to put across is this is all about Rikki, that’s all it’s ever been about,” Neave says.
“He would have been 34 now.
“I often sit and wonder how many kids he would have, what work he’d be doing.
“I’ll never get over losing him.”
Ruth Neave statement after James Watson’s conviction
Rikki’s mother, Ruth Neave, said James Watson was a “monster” who had ruined her life and those of her children.
In a statement released following sentencing, Ms Neave wrote: “James Watson, you have no idea what you have done.
“But you do of course. You are pure evil, with no conscience.”
Watson “set in motion a chain of events that has ruined my life and those of my children,” she added.
Addressing him directly, she wrote: “How did you feel, killing a six-year-old boy?”
Ruth has no contact with her daughter Rochelle.
Rikki Neave’s mum Ruth and husband Gary (Credit: Geoff Robinson Photography/Shutterstock)
Is Ruth Neave ill or disabled?
Ruth Neave suffers from various illnesses, for which she partly blames the death of her son, and her belief that she was wrongfully imprisoned.
She suffers from arthritis, diabetes, anxiety and depression.
Ruth relies on crutches to get around.
Is Ruth Neave married?
Upon her release from prison, Ruth Neave returned to Cambridgeshire where she met her husband Gary Rogers.
Ruth Neave has been married to her husband Gary ever since.
Gary is not Rikki’s dad.
Both Ruth and Gary campaigned for police to reopen Rikki’s case.
Rikki Neave pictured in his school uniform just weeks before he died (Credit: Geoff Robinson Photography/Shutterstock)
Where is Rikki Neave’s mum Ruth Neave now?
Rikki’s mum Ruth was released from prison 14 years ago after serving most of a seven-year sentence.
She subsequently campaigned tirelessly to keep attention on Rikki’s case after his death.
In 2014, Ruth met Mr Fullwood, the head of the local major crime unit, at Parkside Police Station in Cambridge.
He has since said: “When I listened to the family’s evidence and saw the reviews that the police had done beforehand, for me there were a number of lines of inquiry which were outstanding.
“There were a number of opportunities that had been missed in my view.”
Mr Fullwood organised a cold case investigation with a team of new staff.
Thanks for Ruth’s relentless efforts, and Mr Fullwood’s cold case investigation, James Watson was finally bought to justice.
Now, Ruth lives quietly in a small Cambridgeshire flat with her husband Gary (not Rikki’s dad).
Ruth has spoken publicly about the injustice of being accused of Rikki’s murder.
Rikki’s mum has since expressed her regret over being high on drugs when her son was murdered.
She appeared in the Channel 5 documentary The Murder of Rikki Neave: The Mother’s Story in 2022.
In the exclusive interview with Rikki Neave’s mum Ruth, she discussed how she was falsely accused of murdering her own son.
How old is Ruth Neave?
Ruth Neave is currently 53 years of age.
She was born on August 18 1968 in Lewisham.
Ruth was 20 years old when she gave birth to Rikki.
24 Hours in Police Custody: The Murder of Rikki Neave airs at 9pm on Monday July 04 2022 on Channel 4.
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