Ricky Neave’s killer faces life in prison for 1994 murder

The killer, who appeared in court more than 27 years after strangling schoolboy Ricky Neave, is due to be sentenced on Friday.

Ames Watson was 13 years old when he lured six-year-old Ricky into the woods near his home in Peterborough on November 28, 1994.

He strangled the boy from behind with a ligature or an anorak collar to fulfill a “painful fantasy” he had told his mother about three days earlier.

He undressed Ricky and laid out his naked body in the form of a star for sexual gratification, deliberately “exposing” it near the children’s forest lair.

Ricky’s body was found the day after he disappeared.


Police tape cordoning off the woods near the Welland estate in Peterborough, near the site where Ricky Neave’s body was found. (Cambs Police/PA)

Initially, the police blamed Ricky’s mother, Ruth Neave, for the murder, but she was acquitted after the trial.

At the time, Watson was spoken to as a witness because he was seen with Ricky the day he disappeared.

But his lying story remained undeniable, and he was not considered a suspect until a DNA breakthrough was made a few years later that linked him to Ricky’s discarded clothes.

The prosecutor’s office considered that the evidence was still insufficient, but reversed its decision after Ms. Neave and the Ricky sisters demanded that the victims be given the right to a review.

In April, Watson, now 41, was found guilty of murder by a majority after a jury deliberated at the Old Bailey for 36 hours and 31 minutes.

On Friday, Watson will return to the Old Bailey, where Mrs. Justice McGowan will sentence him to life in prison and set a minimum term before he can be considered for release.


James Watson, 41, convicted of the murder of Ricky Neave (CPS/PA).

The court had previously heard how Watson’s sexual interest in younger boys was known to police, who questioned him on charges of molesting a five-year-old child in 1993.

More disturbing behavior was noted at Watson’s orphanage, including masturbating over photographs of boys in their underwear and keeping a dead pheasant in his room, the court heard.

The prosecution argued, not coincidentally, that three days before the murder, Watson became the source of a fake radio report about the strangulation of a two-year-old boy.

Immediately after Ricky’s murder, under identical circumstances, Watson became obsessed with newspaper coverage of the murder, copying stories from the front pages at school.

And the ex-girlfriend said that he later strangled her during sex in the woods, killed the bird, and spread its wings in a sinister re-enactment of Ricky’s murder.


Front page of the Peterborough Evening Telegraph November 30, 1994 with an article about the death of Ricky Neave (CPS/PA).

The jury heard that key evidence in the case against Watson included Ricky’s last meal, Weetabix, which set the time of his death at around noon.

This meant that Ricky was killed shortly after being seen with Watson walking into the woods where he was playing.

Ricky’s dirty Clarks shoes also indicated that his walk into the woods was a one-way trip.

In a police interrogation in 2016, Watson attempted to explain the presence of his DNA on Ricky’s clothes, stating that he held it up to look at the diggers through a hole in the fence.

Prosecutor John Price QC said it was his “really big mistake” as the police managed to prove in 1994 that the fence wasn’t there.

The jurors were told that Watson had a large criminal record, including convictions for car theft and the arson of a British transport police station.

Watson fled to Portugal while on bail on suspicion of murder, but was extradited back to the UK.

In his defense, Watson’s legal team pointed out suspicions to Ms. Neve, which she dismissed.

The defense stated that Watson could not have killed Ricky as he was seen alive on the afternoon of 28 November.

However, the prosecution shrugged off “ghosts” that erroneously claimed that Ricky was wearing a red jumper or riding a BMX bike.


Sketch by court painter Ruth Neave, Ricky Neave’s mother, appearing via video link at the Old Bailey, London (Elizabeth Cooke/PA)

After the verdict was handed down, Ms Neave thanked the jury for the “correct decision”, called her son’s killer a “monster” but said “now is not the time to celebrate because this should never have happened.”

Rikki’s sister Rebecca added: “While this day is a painful reminder of the loss we have all suffered, justice has finally been served.”

Former Assistant Chief Constable Paul Fullwood, who handled the cold case, said Watson is “fantastic, dangerous and a compulsive liar.”

“It has been a monumental series of tests all along. But as far as we are concerned, we have the right person responsible for the terrible, terrible murder of this little boy Ricky Neave,” he said.

Hannah Van Dadelzen, Deputy Attorney General for the East of England, admitted that Ms Neave’s prosecution was “wrong” and said she was “delighted” that justice had been done.