Allegations | 

Rikki Neave murder accused denies interest in dead animals and young children

Jurors at the Old Bailey have heard that he was seen with the victim on the morning of November 28, when both children should have been at school.

Rikki Neave was found strangled in woodland in Cambridgeshire 25 years ago (PA)

Emily Pennink, PA Old Bailey Correspondent

A police officer’s son accused of murdering schoolboy Rikki Neave has denied having an unhealthy interest in dead birds and young children.

James Watson was only 13 at the time it is alleged he killed six-year-old Rikki in Peterborough on November 28, 1994.

The little boy was found strangled, stripped and posed in a star shape in woodland the next day.

Watson, now 40, was charged with Rikki’s murder after his DNA was allegedly found on the youngster’s discarded clothes.

Jurors at the Old Bailey have heard that he was seen with the victim on the morning of November 28, when both children should have been at school.

Giving evidence on Monday, Watson told jurors that was the “first and only time” he had met Rikki.

Court artist sketch of James Watson (right) in the dock at the Old Bailey, where he is charged with the murder of six-year-old Rikki Neave in 1994 (Elizabeth Cook/PA)

The defendant also dismissed allegations that he was interested in dead birds and images of young children in underwear.

Watson was taken into care after his father, a serving police officer with Cambridgeshire Police, was arrested and subsequently jailed, the court was told.

He could not stay with his mother instead because of the person she was living with, the jury was told.

Watson said: “It was not my fault that I had to leave and go into care.”

He hated school and would play truant “an awful lot”.

“I did not fit in. I did not like having to sit there for hours. I didn’t have any friends at school,” he said.

After being dropped off at school by taxi, he would walk around, sometimes at a shopping centre, before getting picked up for the journey back to the children’s home, jurors heard.

He denied ever going into the home of Rikki and his family on the Welland estate in Peterborough.

Watson also denied a former girlfriend’s evidence that he once killed a sparrow with a stone, saying: “All my life I have always liked animals, and birds in particular.”

He told jurors that he later became involved in animal rights when he and a boyfriend lived in Cambridge.

He added that he had always wanted to be a vet but did not have the qualifications, and was “really proud” that he passed an Open University course in animal care while in prison.

The copse in Peterborough where the body of six-year-old Rikki Neave was found in November 1994 (Alan Water/PA)

His lawyer, Jennifer Dempster QC, asked about a claim that he kept a “bespoke” clothing catalogue, featuring young children in underwear, in his room when he was in care.

Watson replied: “Absolutely not.”

Ms Dempster said: “If you had a Littlewoods-type catalogue did you have that for any purpose connected with looking at pictures of children?”

Watson dismissed the suggestion as “crazy” and insisted he had no interest in that type of material.

On the claim that he kept the carcass of a pheasant in his room at the same children’s home, Watson said he was against “animal cruelty” but found the iridescence of pheasant feathers “fascinating”.

Earlier, in an opening address, Ms Dempster told jurors there are three issues in the defence case.

Firstly, she highlighted the difficulty in pinpointing the time of Rikki’s death.

The second issue is whether the jury can be sure that Watson killed Rikki “given the state of the evidence”.

Ms Dempster said it is “incontrovertibly” proven that Watson had met Rikki and there were a “few minutes” of interaction.

But there is “simply no evidence” that he was in the woods for some two hours, during which time it is alleged he killed, stripped and posed Rikki.

Thirdly, Rikki’s body was found by a police officer the next day, shortly after noon.

Yet, Ms Dempster said, another officer had searched the path where he was found just after 7.30pm the night before and Rikki was not there.

The defence lawyer suggested that if that was right, Rikki or his body was moved there under cover of darkness.

The “major consequence” of that would be to rule out Watson, as he would already have got his taxi back to the children’s home, she asserted.

Watson, of no fixed address, denies murder and the trial continues.

Today's Headlines

More Courts

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

WatchMore Videos