A mum has described a man who murdered her six-year-old son almost 30 years ago as a “monster” and “pure evil” – as he was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 15 years.
James Watson was 13 when he lured Rikki Neave to woods near his Peterborough home in November 1994.
Watson, now 41, throttled Rikki from behind with a ligature or anorak collar.
He carried out his attack to fulfil a “morbid fantasy”, he told his mother three days beforehand.
Rikki’s mother, Ruth Neave, said 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?”
Ms Neave said her victim impact statement had been “watered down by the authorities” to the extent that she “barely recognised it” when it was read out in court.
Her words were “dramatically altered”, she added, and it was “just another part of the justice system I have had to learn to live and deal with”.
Speaking outside the Old Bailey, former assistant chief constable Paul Fullwood said he had apologised to Ruth Neave for the “length of time this investigation has taken” and can “understand the hurt and pain she’s gone through”.
Mr Fullwood said he had “not seen any remorse” from Watson, who he described as a “fantasist” and a “compulsive liar”.
Regarding the initial inquiry, Mr Fullwood said “mistakes were made” and there were “lines of inquiry that were never followed up”.
He added: “Quite clearly, the constabulary at the time went down a road which took us completely away from the real person responsible for the murder of Rikki Neave.”
But he added a caveat, pointing out that detectives in 1994 “didn’t have the benefit of forensics, didn’t have the benefit of dedicated homicide murder teams”.
Nevertheless, there were “missed opportunities”, he admitted, and “lessons have been learned”.
Police originally suspected Ruth Neave of being responsible for the 1994 crime, but a jury acquitted her of murder two years later.
She was instead jailed for seven years after admitting child cruelty, a conviction she is reportedly considering challenging.
During his trial, the Old Bailey heard that Watson had a sexual interest in younger boys which was known to police, who had interviewed him over an allegation that he molested a five-year-old in 1993.
After killing Rikki, Watson stripped him and posed his naked body in a star shape close to a children’s woodland den.
Following his conviction for murder in April, Clare Forsdike, from the Crown Prosecution Service, said the case had been like a “jigsaw puzzle with each piece of evidence not enough by itself”.
But a combination of “evidence from DNA, post mortem, soil samples, eyewitness testimony, and (Watson’s) changing accounts proved overwhelming”.
Watson’s barrister, Jennifer Dempster QC, said her client’s main mitigation was his age at the time of the offence.
She said: “The defendant himself was a victim at the hands of others. (His) 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.”
There was no evidence “in any way, shape or form” that Watson sexually assaulted Rikki, she added.
Rebecca Maria Harvey, Rikki’s eldest sister, said losing him was “like losing the other half of me”.
Breaking down as she addressed the court, she said: “I still wake up every day thinking it was a nightmare. I never had a brother to grow up with.
“Rikki is the one who is not here and lost his life, but the effect this had on me and my family is just never-ending.”
Rochelle Orr, one of Rikki’s younger sisters, looked at Watson at times as she gave her impact statement.
She said she wondered what Rikki “would be like if he was still here but, sadly, I will never know because he was taken from me”.
In her statement, Ruth Neave said: “Thanks to you, James Watson, 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.
“We all lost each other and broke away and our lives fell apart. I lost my children and my liberty and then I had to start all over again still being labelled and called a murderer, including by Rikki’s siblings. That’s what brain washing can do.
“My family was destroyed completely. I have not seen my daughters for over 26 years.”