Rikki Neave’s killer will serve at least 15 years behind bars after being given a life sentence at The Old Bailey today.
James Watson was 13 when he lured schoolboy Rikki to woods near his home in Peterborough and strangled him to fulfil a “morbid fantasy” he had told his mother about three days before.
He stripped Rikki and posed his naked body in a star shape for sexual gratification, deliberately “exhibiting” him near a children’s woodland den.
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His sentence was determined largely by the age he was at the time he struck.
The judge, Mrs Justice McGowan, said: “Rikki was a child too willing to trust and engage with strangers.
“He never had the chance to be happy and lead a normal and fulfilling life. That opportunity was denied to him by his murder.”
Rikki’s murder was among the most high-profile cold cases on police files until Watson’s DNA was identified on the victim’s clothes following a re-examination of the case two decades later.
Mother-of-four Ruth Neave was cleared of her son’s murder in 1996 but was jailed for seven years after admitting child cruelty – a conviction she is reported to be considering challenging, many years after her release.
John Price QC, prosecuting, said Watson would be sentenced for the age he was at the time of the murder.
He said the prosecution and the defence were agreed the starting point was one of 12 years.
He added that there was “the clearest possible indication” of a sexual motive in the way Rikki’s naked body was displayed.
He told the judge: “We say this is quite clearly the murder of a child in which there was an element of sexual motivation.”
The judge, Mrs Justice McGowan, said there was no evidence of sexual activity with Rikki.
Mr Price agreed but said his comments were in relation to the removal of Rikki’s clothes and the way his naked body was posed.
Jennifer Dempster QC, defending Watson, said her client’s most substantial mitigation was his age at the time of the offence.
She also said there were “particularly sensitive matters” in Watson’s life – not aired in court – which made him vulnerable and he was taken into care in 1993 after being assaulted by his father.
She said: “The defendant himself was a victim at the hands of others.
“The defendant’s education and general childhood was affected by being let down by a variety of adults in his life who ought not to have done so.”
Ms Dempster added: “This was a young man – a young boy – who really had no stability in his life.”
She added that there was no evidence “in any way, shape or form” that Watson sexually assaulted Rikki.