Rikki Neave murder accused claims DNA was found as he picked boy up to look at a digger

Rikki Neave

The man on trial accused of murdering a six-year-old schoolboy in the 1990s has claimed he made physical contact with the child before his death, which is why his DNA was found.

James Watson was just 13 at the time that Rikki Neave was found dead in woodland near his Peterborough home on November 28, 1994.

The police officer’s son has stood by his recent claim that he touched Rikki, allegedly picking him up to watch some workmen who were working with a digger, despite only mentioning this detail more than 20 years later.

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Rikki was found strangled, stripped and posed in a star shape in woodland near the Welland estate where Rikki lived the next day.

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

He has accepted being seen with the victim on November 28, when both children should have been at school.

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

According to his statement at the time, Watson had gone to the Welland Estate and was watching a digger when Rikki approached him at 12.30pm.

Undated handout file photo of Rikki Neave, as James Watson, 40, is on trial at the Old Bailey, London, charged with the murder of the six-year-old who was found strangled in woodland 25 years ago, when Watson was a boy of 13.

He had stated: “Rikki said ‘that’s a big tractor isn’t it?’ I said ‘it’s not a tractor it’s a digger’.

“I then moved away and asked the workmen what they were doing. Rikki was walking back towards Redmile Walk.”

Watson accepted the evidence of residents who had seen him, saying he had no independent memory of it now.

“Pretty much all I can tell you is what I have read from other people’s statements,” he told the jury.

He said he spent four minutes with Rikki and only remembered years later that he had picked him up during the encounter.

Police had come to see him in prison because they wanted him to be “clear”, Watson said.

Rikki Neave murder trial

Asked why he did not mention it before, Watson said: “I believe I picked him up today but I cannot remember.”

On the purpose of doing it, Watson said: “To look at the workmen working beyond.”

Watson said he went to see his former foster mother before returning to school to get a taxi back to the children’s home where he was living.

He denied going to the woods where Rikki was found dead, but said it was a place he would go when he lived with his father on the Welland Estate.

During his later interview, police appeared “taken aback” that he knew what DNA was, the defendant said.

He explained that he knew about it after being diagnosed as HIV positive in 2009.

Court sketch of James Watson (centre), appearing in the dock at the Old Bailey
Court sketch of James Watson (centre), appearing in the dock at the Old Bailey
(Image: PA)

Defence barrister Jennifer Dempster QC said: “Was any part of your answer in 2015 ‘I may have picked him up’ an attempt to tailor your account to fit the DNA in the case as it emerged later?”

The defendant denied it.

He also denied that he intended to admit to sexually assaulting a five-year-old boy when he was asked in 2016 about an incident 18 months before Rikki’s death.

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

He could not stay with his mother 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”.

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“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 said she was the only woman he had ever had sex with because “female anatomy just doesn’t do it for me”.

Asked about her allegation that he put his hands around her neck during sex, he said: “A lot of bollocks. It makes me so angry because it’s completely wrong, untrue.”

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.

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.

File photo dated 10/12 /94 of police searching for clues on the Welland Estate, Peterborough, following the murder of six-year-old Rikki Neave.

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.

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