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Police ‘ignored scientific evidence’ to prosecute Ruth Neave for murdering her son

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With new evidence never reported before, The Boy in the Woods, uncovers how police ignored scientific evidence to make a case against the wrong person, and left a child killer free for more than 20 years.

The Boys in the Woods is a major new BBC Radio 4 series, which has been four years in production.

Six-year-old Rikki Neave was found strangled, his body positioned in a distinctive star shape in woodland near his Peterborough home in 1994.

He had been stripped and his clothes dumped in a bin nearby.

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Ruth Neave following CPS announcement to charge James Watson 38 with the murder of her 6 year old son 25 years earlier. Pictured with husband Gary Rogers and CambsNews Editor Elworthy whose campaign encouraged Cambridgeshire Police to re-open the murder inquiry. Picture by Terry Harris.

Rikki was on the social services register of Children at Risk when he died.

Police at the time built a case against Ruth Neave, Rikki’s mother based on allegations that she has mistreated Rikki.

In court, the prosecution told a jury that Ruth had killed Rikki at home and taken his body to the woods in a baby buggy. 

She was acquitted of murder but jailed for seven years for child abuse, Rikki’s killer was left at large.

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It wasn’t until April of this year that James Watson, who was 13 at the time, was brought to justice.

Ruth Neave continued to campaign to find the killer of her son Rikki. On his birthday (right) she visits his grave in private to remember with fondness his short life. Picture: CambsNewsOnline

The Boy in the Woods is presented by Winifred Robinson and produced by Sue Mitchell, they are an award-winning documentary team. 

They have recorded evidence from Professor Tony Brown, a forensic scientist from Southampton University who helps solve crimes by looking at pollen in mud.

Shortly after Rikki’s murder, he was asked by the police to examine Rikki’s clothes.

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He concluded that mud, clinging to the raised ridges on the soles of Rikki’s shoes, indicated he had died in the woods. Professor Brown offered to examine the baby buggy for mud but  it never arrived.

Rikki Neave.

He told Radio 4, ‘I was very glad  when there was a cold case review. It remained the only case I have been involved I, where my evidence had been disregarded.’

James Watson who was 13 at the time, was convicted earlier this year.

He was seen with Rikki on the morning he went missing and was questioned by police soon afterwards.

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Contrary to usual practice, no clothing was taken from him or any other person of interest, for potential fibre matching.

Forensic scientist Peter Lamb had isolated fibres on Rikki’s clothes that could have come from his killer and was expecting to be sent clothing belonging to potential suspects.

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One of the last pictures of Rikki Neave with his five-month-old sister Sheridan. It was taken just before Rikki was murdered.

‘That would have been the obvious thing to do,’ he said, ‘ Most of the cases similar to this, I seem to recall quite a lot of suspects’ clothing coming into the frame.’

In this case, not a single piece of clothing was sent, ‘We had identified fibres we couldn’t find a legitimate source for but we never had items to compare them against.’

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Rikki Neave’s mother Ruth told BBC Radio 4: ‘ I always felt that the police were determined to pin the blame for Rikki’s murder on me. 

“They interviewed me for days and all the time I begged them to try to find my son’s real killer.  What no one knew until your investigation, ‘The Boy In the Woods’ was how the police had discarded scientific evidence that proved I could not have killed him in the way they later described in court.

“It’s more than an innocent mistake, it’s more than bad practice or negligence in my view, they failed to pursue evidence they knew was there. They have destroyed my life. I am just relieved the truth is finally out.’

Ruth Neave

Assistant Chief Constable Paul Fullwood, who led the cold case review said this about the original investigation, “By today’s standards, we’d look at it now and  ask, ‘How could that happen?’ But the way things were investigated in 1994 were very different from today, the rules of disclosure were very different.

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“That doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t make it palatable in any way but in their minds they were focused on trying  prove that Ruth Neave was responsible for the murder of Rikki.”

In a one-off discussion programme, on Monday October 17th at 8pm Winifred explores the failure of the authorities who were in contact with Rikki and his family and how children like him can be better protected.

The cross bench peer Lord Laming who is taking part,  chaired the 2001 public inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie, and more recently led a review of child protection after the death of Peter Connelly, Baby P.

He said he welcomed the investigation carried out by BBC Radio 4 and called on the Government to do more to protect society’s most vulnerable children:

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“There should be a review of what’s happening across the country, what lessons have been learned and how these can be applied.

“A key factor about these cases, and it certainly applied to Rikki’s, is that these children can’t defend themselves. The duty to protect them falls on us all. 

“Children like Rikki are usually hidden in full sight: the agencies know about them, but don’t have the means and resources to intervene earlier to prevent awful things happening.”

Winifred Robinson, reporter and presenter, said: “I set out to tell this story and to get to the truth and I feel I have done that.’

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Sue Mitchell, Series Producer, said: ‘We believe this is a definitive account that tells Rikki’s story in the depth it deserves.’

The Boy in the Woods (10×15’) and the one-off discussion programme Boy in the Woods (1×30’) are BBC Audio productions for BBC Radio 4.  Sue Mitchell is Producer. The Editor is Philip Sellars.

The Boy in the Woods will be broadcast weekdays at 13:45 from Monday 3rd of October and it will be available as a boxset on BBC Sounds.

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