How ‘manipulator and fantasist’ James Watson nearly got away with murder

Detective who led reinvestigation recalls learning decision not to charge suspect had been reversed

James Watson nearly got away with the murder of six-year-old Rikki Neave, a retired detective who led the re-investigation of the 1994 killing has revealed.

Paul Fullwood, a former head of the major crime unit for Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, said the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) initially told Watson, after his arrest in 2016, that no further action would be taken against him as they did not think there was enough evidence.

Rikki’s family lodged an appeal known as a victim’s right to review, which is rarely granted or successful.

“The reviewing officer contacted us to say they were overturning the early decision by the CPS: ‘We think there’s a prime facie case that James Watson is responsible for the murder of Rikki Neave’,” Fullwood recalled. “I thought: bloody hell, we’re going to get justice for this young lad.”

Fullwood said the original murder inquiry discounted Watson too quickly and officers were too focused on their belief that Rikki’s mother, Ruth, who was acquitted of the murder in 1996, was the culprit.

When Fullwood took up his post with the major crime unit in 2014, Ruth Neave was pushing for a re-investigation and he promised to review the case.

“The more we looked, the more we realised there were lines of inquiry not followed up in 1994,” he said. He also found there was still a belief within the police service and across Peterborough that Ruth Neave was responsible and had “got off”.

But Fullwood was not convinced. “My professional view, having been a detective at every rank, was that it was a fanciful hypothesis.”

He decided to reopen the investigation and the hunch paid off. Adhesive tapings of Rikki’s clothes were reanalysed using modern techniques and the DNA of James Watson, who was interviewed as a 13-year-old witness at the time of the killing, was found.

“DNA alone is not enough,” Fullwood said. “But the minute we started looking and looking … we were painting this picture of James Watson, one of the last people to be seen with Rikki Neave in 1994, but he was discounted quickly as a 13-year-old boy.”

Witnesses had placed Watson with Rikki on the day of the boy’s disappearance, and there were allegations of indecently assaulting a child, strangling an ex-partner during sex, keeping dead animals under his bed, as well as photocopying images of Rikki in the days after the murder.

“He’s a manipulator and a fantasist,” Fullwood said of Watson.

Asked who was to blame for the failings of the original investigations, Fullwood said: “We have the benefit of DNA, which we didn’t have then. At the time they did the best job they could do. They made the wrong call but there wasn’t anything untoward, they genuinely thought they’d made the right call.”

He added: “With reflection in hindsight, more could have been done to prove or disprove where [Watson] was at that particular time.”

Fullwood said the police were keeping an open mind about whether Watson may have committed other murders but they had no information to suggest he had.


Jamie Grierson

The GuardianTramp

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