Cambridgeshire

Rikki Neave murder: Mum who neglected son seeking answers

Rikki Neave Image copyright Cambs Police
Image caption No-one has ever been convicted of the murder of Rikki Neave

A mother who was jailed for neglecting her child but cleared of his murder says she still lives "under a cloud", 25 years after his death.

Ruth Neave's son Rikki, 6, was found strangled in woodland near their home on the Welland Estate in Peterborough on 29 November 1994.

She was acquitted of the murder but the trial heard how she had abused him.

Mrs Neave, who is still seeking answers after the case reopened in 2015, said: "I've hung under a cloud for 25 years."

"I don't want to live like this," she added.

Rikki disappeared after leaving their home in Redmile Walk at 09:00 GMT on 28 November to take the five-minute footpath walk to school.

Police scoured the estate for the missing boy, co-ordinating groups of volunteers. Rikki's naked body was discovered spread-eagled in undergrowth the following day.

Post-mortem tests revealed he had been strangled. His school uniform was found in a nearby bin.

Image caption Ruth Neave pictured after her arrest - and today

The original murder inquiry found a number of assaults on children had been reported in the area in the nine months before Rikki died.

However, the finger was pointed at Rikki's mother, after it was revealed the little boy had been on Cambridgeshire social services' "at-risk" register, and frequently skipped school.

She was arrested in February 1995 and charged with her son's murder three months later. Mrs Neave went on to be cleared of murder by a jury, but admitted child neglect and cruelty charges, for which she served seven years in Holloway prison.

The murder trial heard how she had threatened to kill her son, scrawled "idiot" across his forehead on one occasion, and squirted washing-up liquid in his mouth.

Prosecutors alleged Rikki was killed in a satanic ritual by his mother, telling the jury of her interest in the occult. However, the defence argued an untraced sex attacker was responsible for his death, and she was cleared.

Sentencing her for cruelty, the judge said he had rarely come across a case of such "persistent and systematic" abuse.

Mrs Neave's two other children were taken off her and still do not speak to her.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Rikki with his father Trevor Harvey, and Mrs Neave photographed after her conviction for child cruelty

Mrs Neave remembers Rikki as a popular and inquisitive boy, with a talent for pulling apart and repairing "old electrical stuff" like cassette recorders.

"He was the most special little boy ever, a beautiful personality, very loyal to people, my little best friend," she said.

"He was the man of the house. He was his own little spirit. But I think I gave him too much freedom."

On the last morning he left for school, she recalls: "There was no 'I love you'. He'd gone."

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Police on the scene shortly after the murder of Rikki

Police chief Paul Fullwood said continued investigations were important so he could reassure Mrs Neave that officers had done their utmost to solve the case.

Mr Fullwood, assistant chief constable of Bedfordshire Police, reopened the investigation into Rikki's death, with detectives hoping modern DNA and laser imaging techniques might provide a breakthrough.

A BBC Crimewatch appeal also resulted in e-fits being produced of two teenagers - now middle-aged men - who were seen in the area at the time.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption A police officer lays flowers in tribute to Rikki in 1994

A suspect was arrested in 2016, but released after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said there was insufficient evidence to charge him.

That outcome was challenged by Rikki's family through a Victim's Right to Review, with the CPS due to make its final report next month.

"Picking up an inquiry like this has been challenging, it's tested everyone. We're parents ourselves, we're human beings," Mr Fullwood said.

"I feel for Ruth and I want to look her in the eye and say we've done everything we can to bring whoever is responsible to justice."

Image copyright Cambridgeshire Police
Image caption These e-fits were created after a TV appeal for information

Bella Saltmarsh, a former housing officer and city councillor in Peterborough, said the community had fought hard to improve its reputation, as the killing "cast a shadow" on the Welland Estate.

"This is a not an estate that people choose to live in, but I have never felt unsafe here," she said. "People have worked hard to improve it, but it is one of the most deprived in the country... [although] the community spirit is really strong."

Image caption The woodland off Willoughby Court where Rikki's body was found, as it looks today

Mrs Neave, who no longer lives in Peterborough, said she would never get over the killing of her son.

As the 25th anniversary approaches, only a few close family members know where Rikki's ashes are buried.

"We have a special place," Mrs Neave said. "We'll go and see him."

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