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Ruth Neave’s painful journey on the anniversary of her son’s murder

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November 29, 1994 is not a date most would be familiar with – but for Ruth Neave it remains a day she can never forget.

It was the day police came to tell her that the body of her six-year-old son Rikki had been found in woodland near her Peterborough home. Cause of death: strangulation.

After a year in which Rikki’s killer James Watson was tried, found guilty by an Old Bailey jury, and only last week lost his appeal against conviction and sentencing, Ruth remains perplexed and angry but with one remaining task for 2022.

On the anniversary of his murder, Ruth Neave will travel to the spot where her murdered son Rikki’s ashes are scattered. On his birthday she releases balloons.

And that she will complete today when she visits the spot where – after her release from prison – she went to scatter Rikki’s ashes.

Having been tried, and acquitted, of her son’s murder, she pleaded guilty to child cruelty and was jailed for seven years

Ruth has always maintained she was “bullied” into that admission and with husband Gary alongside her, plans to resume her campaign to delve more into those charges and, if possible, have them overturned.

But today, it is her moment to remember Rikki.

“It’s been 28 years and yes, we finally got justice,” she tells me.

Ruth Neave case. Ruth looking at the house she lived in Welland estate,Peterborough.

“Not the justice that we wanted but the justice that we should have got for him much sooner. But at least with his killer James Watson behind bars, we have finally got the truth of what happened and how he died.”

Ruth fought a long, arduous battle to get a cold case review into Rikki’s murder.

Husband Gary contacted me in early 2014 to ask for help, and so began a newspaper campaign to persuade Cambridgeshire police to sit up, take note, and find the actual murderer of Rikki, and not the one detectives back in 1994 thought had done it.

Our campaign (it was a team effort with Ruth providing memories from that time, Gary researching thousands of police statements and myself looking for clues amidst the paperwork and then writing regular updates) did finally have the outcome we sought.

Ruth Neave and husband Gary with Editor John Elworthy (right)
Picture by Terry Harris.

Ruth Neave and Gary Rogers at the press conference, held at the Oliver Cromwell hotel, March. One of many such press conferences in the campaign to get the murder case re-opened

And that was because of one man, Det Chief Supt Paul Fullwood, who in 2013 had become head of the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit.

In 2016 came the moment Ruth had long waited for – a call from Det Supt Fullwood to meet and then later for him to announce Rikki’s murder was to be re-investigated.

It was an effort that was to take eight years and when the trial finally came round, he had left the force but was determined to see the trial through to its conclusion.

“Since we opened up this enquiry 8 years ago, it has taken significant investigative effort, tenacity and teamwork to get to this point,” he said afterwards.

Ruth believes she has done her son proud. “I hope Rikki is sitting up there and smiling at us and thinking how hard we tried to get him justice,” she says.

Rikki Neave.

“But we made a promise to Rikki’s family that we would find the person responsible for Rikki’s death and it is a promise we have kept.

“Historical murders are notoriously difficult to investigate, and this case came with significant challenges, but we used every tool available to overcome those obstacles.”

His energy, warmth and commitment shown through.

“Every detective has one last job, and this was mine,” he says.

“There will be considerable organisational learning from this enquiry which will be shared and hopefully lessons learnt to assist similar investigations across law enforcement.

“I am just so glad we finally secured justice for 6-year-old Rikki and his family.

“They finally have answers, they know what happened and they know who took Rikki from them, and I really hope this gives them the peace they rightly deserve.”

The beginning of the media campaign led by John Elworthy for a cold case review

Ruth says she will forever be grateful to Mr Fullwood and his team (made up exclusively of detectives not involved in the original murder probe).

Her determination is one of the abiding memories I have of those years fighting her corner.

And whatever my thoughts on the child cruelty charges (they are for another day, another story maybe) she accepted my one condition for involvement and that was for my reporting to focus exclusively on the murder.

I offered no views on the charges for which she was imprisoned which turned out to be correct approach as the campaign gathered momentum, press conferences we staged got better attended, and more newspapers and TV channels began to follow our campaign.

Ruth believes she has done her son proud.

“I hope Rikki is sitting up there and smiling at us and thinking how hard we tried to get him justice,” she says.

“I am always thinking of him – the cutest little man and sweetest little things that made him so special.

“He was a gorgeous little boy and I miss him so badly, minute by minute, second by second; nothing is going to change, and I’ve just got to live with what happened.”

On the anniversary of his murder, she will travel to the spot where Rikki’s ashes are scattered.

“We walk around, talk to him, then we sit down and have a sandwich and put balloons up to wish him well,” she says.

“We just contemplate what has happened in the years since how hard it has been to get justice.

“We scattered his ashes somewhere only a very few people know; it is to stop anyone turning it into a circus.

“I picked the spot it was so beautiful; all the flowers were out.”

Rikki’s funeral was on February 14, 1995, and his ashes were kept by Ruth’s solicitor and handed to her in 2020 when she left prison.

“The solicitor bought them down few days after my release,” says Ruth.

“I was in a flat and someone arrived with them -one of the staff from the solicitor’s office.”

Ruth took the ashes with her alongside Sue, a prison worker.

“She was from Styal Prison in Cheshire when I knew her, but she came all the way from Scotland, with a friend, to where I was living.

“And we decided that day we would scatter the ashes.

“We did poems, a little service in the open.

“We had driven round and round until we found this nice little place, a nice place for Rikki to look after the children while he played in a children’s park

“Me, Sue, and her friend drove round for hours and hours – it needed to be special for Rikki.

“We found this little place by a river, looked through these gates and there was this park; it was so beautiful.

“The spot is in the grounds of an old school, now sold off, and there is a grass footpath to get to it. It seemed just a perfect spot.”

She returns “when I can” and tries not to miss the anniversary of his murder or his birthday.

Ruth says: “Covid was difficult and this year I have had a heart attack and been in hospital for a while. It some time since our last visit, so this is extra special.”

Ruth says: “The spot is known to very few people and I intend to keep it that way

“No one ever needs to know; several people have asked but this is private

“All I will say is that it is within a morning’s drive of where I now live.”

Ruth, 54, will make the journey with husband, Gary, 60.

“Health wise this year it’s not been good,” she says. “Court got on top of me and my mental health was bad too.

“Then to cap it all I smashed my elbow, got pneumonia which caused three heart attacks and ended up in hospital.”

She now has a pacemaker fitted, is constrained by mobility issues and her mental health remains challenging.

“But I am determined to fight on: next stage is I want to expose social services and Cambridgeshire police for the vendetta against me that saw me wrongly tried for murder and for child cruelty.

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