A man who was sentenced to prison last year for the 1994 mur*der of a six-year-old boy has lost his appeal.
The day after Rikki Neave vanished, his body was discovered in some woods close to his home in Peterborough.
James Watson, who is now 42 years old but was 13 at the time, was found guilty in April of last year and sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 15 years.
Ruth Neave, Rikki’s mother, described the decision as the culmination of a “horrific and tragic journey”.
Watson had contested his conviction at a Court of Appeal hearing in London in June, but his case has now been rejected by a panel of three judges.
Watson’s appeal was led by Jennifer Dempster KC, who had argued that a “wholesale loss and destruction of evidence” in the case prevented her client from receiving a fair trial.
It effectively ended the defense’s ability to investigate the potential of additional suspects, the witness claimed.
The Crown Prosecution Service’s John Price KC, however, had informed the appeal judges that there was no proof that Watson’s case had been impacted.
“The applicant failed to demonstrate that there was any prejudice caused to him by the loss of the material that has been identified,” he said.
“If there was… we do not accept that it was not capable of being ameliorated in the usual way.”
In the woods close to where he lived on the Welland estate, Rikki’s body was discovered in November 1994. It was found naked and in a star-shaped pose with his arms extended and legs spread apart. He’d been choked to death.
Until DNA was found on the victim’s clothes two decades after the crime, his mu*rder was one of the most well-known cold cases in police records.
Watson claimed he did not commit the crime, but a jury found him guilty and sentenced him in June at the Old Bailey in London.
The second defendant to go on trial for Rikki’s mur*der was Watson, who also resided on the Welland estate, after the boy’s mother Ruth Neave was exonerated in 1996.
Watson’s appeal against his conviction “must accordingly be dismissed,” according to Lord Justice Holroyde, Mr. Justice Morris, and Judge Angela Morris.
According to a written decision by Lord Justice Holroyde, Watson’s attorneys claimed that the prosecution of him was a “abuse” of the legal system because “the absence of key exhibits rendered it impossible for him to have a fair trial.”
The trial judge, he claimed, had been criticized by Watson’s attorneys for allowing “bad character” evidence to be taken into account by the jury.
He claimed that the prosecution had “applied to adduce” proof that Watson had a sexual interest in young boys and in strangulation.
However, the trial judge had ruled that it was “open to the jury to find that the ki*lling had a sexual element”.
The judge was right to conclude that the appellant could and would receive a fair trial, the speaker continued.
“We are confident that the judge made no mistakes in admitting the evidence of bad character.”
Additionally, Watson’s attorneys claimed that the trial judge’s comments put “undue pressure” on the jury to render a decision.
According to Lord Justice Holroyde, “Taking the remarks collectively, we are satisfied that they could not have caused any juror to feel under any pressure to compromise his or her oath, and they do not render the conviction unsafe.”
Ruth Neave thanked police officers and prosecutors “for all the hard work they have done to get Rikki and I the truth and justice after nearly 30 years” and claimed that their “dedication and hard work have resulted in a monster being jailed for the m*urder of my son.” Watson’s appeal was rejected shortly after Neave’s remarks.
She said to the BBC: “Today’s news ends a very long journey filled with horror and tragedy. This marks the closing of one chapter and the beginning of another.
“Now Rikki can rest in peace, and I can begin a new chapter and start living again.”