Fantasist monster who strangled boy to death in 1994 finally jailed for life

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A 'fantasist monster' who strangled six-year-old schoolboy Rikki Neave to death in 1994 has finally been brought to justice and sentenced to life in prison – serving at least 15 years.

Appearing in court today in a light, short-sleeved shirt, dark tie and trousers, the judge told James Watson he must serve a minimum of 15 years.

He was sentenced for the age he was at the time of the murder and showed no emotion when the ruling was read out.

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Watson, 41, was just 13 on November 28, 1994 when he lured young Rikki into some woods in Peterborough before murdering him.

The twisted killer strangled Rikki using a ligature or anorak collar before stripping him naked and “exhibiting” in a star shape for his own sexual gratification.

Watson had told his mum about the "morbid fantasy" just three days prior.

He was found guilty in April this year at the Old Bailey in London following a crucial DNA breakthrough in 2016 linking him to Rikki’s discarded clothes.

Watson has previously been convicted for sexual assault, stealing cars and setting fire to a British Transport Police station.

Initially, police suspected Rikki’s mother Ruth Neave killed her own son, but she was acquitted after a trial in 1996.

She previously admitted to a series of child cruelty offences against the six-year-old.

In a statement read out at today's sentencing, Neave said: “I know I smacked him when he was naughty, but I hated it. I could not tell him off without.

“Yes I used to shout at him and swear, but that never killed him, did it?

“I had my children snatched out of my arms in the middle of the night because the police were so adamant that I had killed Rikki and would then kill my daughters.

“I feel dead inside, he was the only son I had.”

Following 36 hours and 31 minutes of jury deliberation, Watson was found guilty of murder in April.

Watson was back in the Old Bailey today when Mrs Justice McGowan sentenced him to life.

Previously, the court heard of his disturbing behaviours as a child.

Whilst in a children's home he masturbated over pictures of young boys and kept a dead pheasant in his room.

He was also interviewed by police in 1993 over the alleged molestation of a five-year-old.

After Rikki's body was found, the court heard that Watson obsessed over newspaper coverage and copied front page stories at school.

A key part of Watson's story falling apart was a police interview in 2016, when he tried to explain his DNA being on Rikki's clothes by saying he picked the child up to look at diggers through a hole in a fence.

Police proved that the fence wasn't there in 1994, with prosecutor John Price QC saying this was his “really big mistake”.

His legal team unsuccessfully tried to point the finger at Rikki's mum throughout the trial.

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Former assistant chief constable Paul Fullwood, who led the cold case, said Watson is "a fantasist, a dangerous individual, and a compulsive liar".

“All the way through this, it’s been a monumental series of challenges. But as far as we’re concerned, we’ve got the right person responsible for the dreadful, dreadful murder of that little boy Rikki Neave,” he added.

Addressing Watson today, but not using his name, Rikki's sister Rebecca Harvey said: “After all these years of living your life you finally get your comeuppance, and Rikki Lee Harvey finally gets justice.”

If you or somebody you know has been affected by this story, contact Victim Support for free, confidential advice on 08 08 16 89 111 or visit their website, www.victimsupport.org.uk.

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