How Weetabix Held A Vital Clue In A 27-Year-Old Murder Case

Poppy Bilderbeck

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How Weetabix Held A Vital Clue In A 27-Year-Old Murder Case

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

A senior prosecutor has revealed how Weetabix helped pin down the killer of schoolboy Rikki Neave.

In 1994 six-year-old Neave disappeared after he left for school one morning.

His body was discovered days later in a woodland in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire.

The young boy had been strangled and his death was subsequently ruled to be murder. However, his killer was never pinned down and for 27 years no one was brought to justice, until very recently.

Rikki Neave disappeared in 1994 after he left for school one morning. Credit: Alamy
Rikki Neave disappeared in 1994 after he left for school one morning. Credit: Alamy

Neave's mother, Ruth, was the first suspect in the case, as Neave was recognised as a vulnerable child by Cambridge social services.

The six-year-old was often missing from school and was also on the county's Child Protection Register.

Ruth was eventually cleared of the young boy's murder in 1996 despite being jailed for seven years for child cruelty. Ever since, Ruth has been fighting to find her son's murderer.

Head of the local major crime unit Assistant Chief Constable Paul Fullwood met with the six-year-old's family in 2014, where it was ascertained there were 'a number of lines of inquiry which were outstanding'.

In particular, in the original 1994 investigation, a man called James Watson cropped up.

Ruth Neave has been fighting for the last 27 years to have her son's killer brought to justice. Credit: Alamy
Ruth Neave has been fighting for the last 27 years to have her son's killer brought to justice. Credit: Alamy

On the day of the murder, witnesses saw him playing with the six-year-old.

In the recent investigation, when looking through the forensic archives the team found Watson's DNA in an envelope that also had samples of Neave's clothing in it, BBC News reports. However, at the time, the evidence wasn't considered enough to arrest him.

In April 2016, Watson was arrested on suspicion of murder after evidence emerged that found Watson had inappropriately sexually touched a five-year-old when he was just 11 or 12 years old himself.

He had also strangled a previous partner during sex and killed a bird, laying it out in a similar way to how Neave's was discovered.

Another re-evaluation of evidence surrounding Neave having breakfast at around 9.30am on the day of his disappearance has also helped bring his killer to justice.

Weetabix helped police figure out the timeframe of when Nikki Reave was murdered. Credit: Alamy
Weetabix helped police figure out the timeframe of when Nikki Reave was murdered. Credit: Alamy

Deputy chief crown prosecutor for the East of England, Hannah Van Dadelszen, said: "I think what really fundamentally changed our understanding of what happened in this case was the post-mortem evidence which showed that Rikki died within two hours of his last meal.

“And his last meal was Weetabix for breakfast that morning. And we think that he had that around 9.30am.

“Once we had re-evaluated that evidence, we knew that he had died in the morning, rather than later in the day or the evening, as we had originally thought.”

The case against Watson was given another 'major thrust' after soil from the young boy's shoes revealed he had walked into the woods, rather than an earlier theory exploring the possibility of him having been wheeled there in a buggy at night.

Van Dadelszen said: "The weight that was attached to that evidence was different in the prosecution back in 1996.

"That’s really the product of different lawyers looking at it and a fresh pair of eyes having a different point of view."

The clothes Neave was wearing at the time of his murder were also found to have Watson's DNA on them.

James Watson has been charged with the murder of six-year-old Rikki Neave. Credit: Alamy
James Watson has been charged with the murder of six-year-old Rikki Neave. Credit: Alamy

Yesterday, 21 April, 41-year-old Watson was found guilty by major verdict of murder at the Old Bailey.

Van Dadelszen reflected on the advantage of having more advanced DNA technology, meaning the police could 'obtain evidence that wouldn’t have been available to us at the trial in 1996', which was also 'more informed and more accurate'.

She concluded: "It’s certainly showing that the initial decision to prosecute Ruth Neave for Rikki’s murder was wrong, and we’ve been very upfront about that.

"I am pleased that we have been able to deliver justice for all those who knew and loved Rikki. And I hope that for all those people that does bring a sense of closure to the case.

"And it does bring a sense of confidence and hope that these types of cases can still be resolved so long after they occurred. I think as well, it shows a resilience and a determination by both the police and the prosecutors to really follow through on difficult cases, and not shy away from prosecutions that are far from straightforward."

If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence regarding the welfare of a child, contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000, 8am–10pm Monday to Friday, 9am–6pm weekends. If you are a child seeking advice and support, call Childline for free on 0800 1111 

If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677 

Topics: News, Crime, UK News

Poppy Bilderbeck
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