NEARLY two years after Rikki Neave's naked body was found near his Peterborough home, his mother, Ruth stood trial for his murder and was subsequently cleared by a jury. Today, in the third of a series of features to mark the 10th anniversary of Rikki's death, chief Reporter Neil Franklin looks back at a court case which gripped the city.
NEARLY two years after Rikki Neave's naked body was found near his Peterborough home, his mother, Ruth stood trial for his murder and was subsequently cleared by a jury. Today, in the third of a series of features to mark the 10th anniversary of Rikki's death, chief Reporter Neil Franklin looks back at a court case which gripped the city.IN life Ruth Neave treated her six-year-old son Rikki worse than a dog. The little boy was seen to grovel at her feet on one occasion pathetically crying out: ''I love you mummy, I love you mummy'' after she had gripped him round the throat.
This was not out of the ordinary.
When enraged, his mother thought nothing of punching, kicking and throwing him about in front of neighbours in Redmile Walk, Welland, Peterborough. She would scream threats at the terrified child.
On one occasion she was seen dangling him by his feet from a bridge, 15 ft above a river in March.
In sharp contrast to the way she treated him in life, Neave showed tenderness to her son when he was dead. When it was too late to give the little boy any hope of a life filled with any love or understanding.
After Rikki was found and taken to a mortuary, his mother was seen to show an "extraordinary" interest in her son's body. She was seen touching him, stroking him, and kissing his cheek.
The warped relationship between this mother and son was just one element of the Ruth Neave murder trial which gripped the people of Peterborough for four weeks, and was in turns shocking and sensational.
The trial was held at Northampton Crown Court and was presided over by High Court Judge Mr Justice Popplewell, one of the most respected judges in Britain.
Neave faced a charge of murdering Rikki, which she denied.
She also faced charges of cruelty to the six-year-old, and two other children, and charges of supplying a class B drug and burglary.
Here are extracts from The Evening Telegraph's trial diary:
A packed court room fell silent as prosecution barrister James Hunt QC alleged Rikki was killed in a sacrifice by his mother, who had an interest in black magic and the occult. Mr Hunt said the six-year-old's body was found in a position which mirrored diagrams in books recovered from Neave's home.
Harrowing details of the schoolboy's last moments were also revealed. He was strangled by his own clothing being pulled up and twisted around his neck – the zip on his top acting as a ligature. Rikki had not been sexually assaulted and he was allegedly murdered "elsewhere", before being taken to the woods.
The prosecution also claimed that Neave had a fascination with the minds of murderers and wrote a catalogue of manuscripts on the subject.
Jurors and Justice Popplewell visited the Welland estate, where Rikki lived and died.
Witnesses revealed disturbing details of alleged acts of cruelty against Rikki by his mother. The court heard Neave regularly assaulted her son in full view of neighbours. She was seen kicking and throwing Rikki, as well as threatening to kill him. In one incident, a witness said she saw Neave laughing as she suspended her son by his ankles 15ft above a river.
The jury also heard allegations that Rikki was sent out on late-night drug runs to feed his mother's habit. A witness said Rikki would be sent out to find amphetamines – which his mother described as "sherbet" – from dealers on the Welland.
On her first day on the Welland estate, Neave claimed she was a high priestess of the occult who dabbled in black magic, the jury heard.
A next-door neighbour said Neave made the bizarre statement over a cup of tea.
Details of the Neave family's contact with social workers were revealed for the first time.
The jury heard Neave had pleaded with social workers to take Rikki into care and warned them he was in danger if he stayed with her.
During cross examination of witnesses, defence barrister Nigel Rumfitt revealed Neave had pleaded guilty to cruelty charges in relation to her son.
One witness, Shelley Dickson, broke down in tears as she recalled how Neave punished Rikki for calling her a "slag" by squirting washing-up liquid into his mouth. A social worker said during one of her visits to Rikki's home, Neave had threatened to "hang her son from the ceiling".
More shocking details of Rikki's contact with social services emerged. Social worker Bryony Smith described how Neave threatened to kill her son, the day before he was reported missing. She said Neave claimed she would "kill him" if she didn't receive help.
The jury also heard Neave was spotted "hurriedly" walking towards the area where her son's body was found on the day he went missing. Sarah Turner said she bumped into Neave as she walked along Redmile Walk, where she lived.
The court was told that Rikki spent his final day alive absent from school and roaming the streets of the Welland.
At about 2am on November 29 – the day Rikki was found – a thorough search was made of Neave's home in Redmile Walk by two policemen, who failed to find any evidence as to where Rikki might be.
The court heard Neave had written a novel called The Perfect Murder which she had given to a social worker.
Jurors also heard how, in a conversation with Rikki's aunt soon after his death, Neave had described a way to dispose of a young body.
Witness Joan Dickson, who became a close friend of Neave's after the tragedy, said Neave predicted where her son's body would be found. She said Neave made the claim before they were told that Rikki's body had already been discovered in a copse.
The trial heard Neave seemed "high" and "excited" during a visit to see her son's body in a hospital chapel. On the first occasion, Neave made two attempts to pull back a shroud covering the youngster's body.
The court heard how Neave stayed at home while friends went out looking for her missing son. Rikki's clothes were found wrapped in the jacket he was allegedly strangled with in a wheelie bin in Willoughby Court – near where his body was found – the jury was told.
The court heard Neave confessed to killing Rikki to a woman she met in a bail hostel.
Women who stayed and worked in the bail hostel said Neave was fascinated with her son's death and regularly talked about it. The jury heard a claim that Neave had paid a friend 5 to call police in a bid to implicate her estranged husband, Dean, in Rikki's death.
The court heard Rikki had begged his mother to take him away from the Welland because he hated it. The youngster blamed his bad behaviour on the estate. The jury heard that Rikki wanted his stepdad to leave him and his mother alone to live in peace. It also emerged Neave had a number of theories on Rikki's deaths, including that a woman had murdered him and taken his body to the woodland in a wheelchair.
The jury was read a letter which Neave wrote to her husband, Dean Neave, in January 1993. It said: "What can I do, kill him or kill myself? I can't seem to get Rikki to do anything. I hate him sometimes because all he does is laugh at me. I just want to kill him if I'm truthful, but I can't."
In another letter read to the court, Neave said the death of her son had left a "gaping hole" in her life.
The defence case opens. The jury heard the death of Rikki had similarities with the attack on another young boy on the Welland Estate.
Barrister Nigel Rumfitt said a youngster was attacked and tied to a tree in Belvoir Way five months before Rikki died. The court also heard details of Neave's past, including her parents committing suicide in a joint pact when she was 24. She was put into care at the age of two-and-a-half.
Neave repeatedly denied killing her son during two hours in the witness box.
A video of a police interview with a 10-year-old girl was played to the court in which she reported seeing Rikki alive after he was reported missing.
The court heard that a teenager, who claimed he had killed Rikki, was seen emerging from the woodland where the youngster's body was found. Louis Butcher had told other children on the estate that he had strangled Rikki. He was arrested but never charged.
The prosecution and defence summed up their cases. Defence barrister Nigel Rumfitt QC said a sex attacker, who had still not been found, could be responsible for Rikki Neave's death.
Prosecution barrister James Hunt QC told jurors to have no sympathy for Neave based on her tragic background. Mr Hunt said Neave could also be found guilty of manslaughter if they, the jury, believed she killed Rikki accidentally.
Mr Justice Popplewell sums up the case.
Jury sent out just after 11am to start its deliberations.
Neave was cleared of murdering Rikki. But she was jailed for seven years after admitting five charges of cruelty to Rikki and two other children, including her daughter Rebecca. Neave, who broke down after being cleared of murder, then made a direct plea to her former neighbours: "Please help me find my son's killer".
Neave was taken back to Holloway prison where she had been on remand since May 1995.
Ruth Neave indictment
Count 1 Murder. Cleared.
Count 2 Cruelty to daughter Rebecca between May 18, 1986 and July 10 1992. Pleaded guilty.
Count 3 Cruelty to Rikki between March 4, 1986 and July 10,1992. Pleaded guilty.
Count 4 Cruelty to daughter Rebecca between July 10, 1992 and February 14, 1994. Pleaded guilty.
Count 5 Cruelty to Rikki between July 10, 1992 and November 29, 1994. Pleaded guilty.
Count 6 Cruelty to another child between July 10, 1992 and November 29, 1994. Pleaded guilty.
Count 7 Concerned in supplying class B drug (amphetamine sulphate) between July 1992 and November 1994. Pleaded guilty.
Separate indictment One count of burglary. Pleaded guilty.
Tomorrow: How the community recovered from the terrible aftermath