How an Editor played a vital role in bringing a 27-year-old murder to court

Twenty seven years after the body of six-year-old Rikki Neave was found near his home in Peterborough the case can finally be closed, after 41-year-old James Watson was found guilty of his murder at the Old Bailey.

For Cambridgeshire Times Editor JOHN ELWORTHY, it was the end of a case which had become intensely personal, and one which he helped to get re-opened.

Here, he explains how he become so deeply involved in the search for the truth…

It began with an email.

A ‘Gary Rogers’ had seen a story I’d written about an unsolved murder (Una Crown of Wisbech) and told me ‘I’ve got something you ought to investigate’”

After arranging to meet in a pub in Ely, he told me about Ruth Neave. How he had met and married her.

And of her jail sentence for child cruelty and acquittal of murdering her son Rikki.

By the end, he had convinced me there was sufficient to merit further investigation as Ruth had been thwarted in her campaign to get the case re-opened.

John Elworthy with Ruth Neave back in 2016 as they set about reopening the murder case into her son Rikki Neave
John Elworthy (left) and Ruth Neave back in 2016

Ruth, explained Gary, distrusted journalists but surprisingly on the steps of the pub he asked if I would like to meet her. I assumed sometime in the future.

Moments later we were outside his car, the window down, and I met Ruth Neave.

Over the following days of January, 2014, we met frequently, mostly for dinner at a pub in Soham (which reminds me I never claimed the costs back).

Later that month the EDP ran the first version of my findings — across five pages.

And so began a long, arduous, challenging campaign to persuade Cambridgeshire Police of “compelling new evidence”, to re-open the case.

Gary worked night and day going over every document/statement/piece of evidence he could find (and how he got hold of them will remain untold).

I interviewed them, often, and compiled fresh stories, offering fresh thoughts, fresh perspective with a growing sense a provincial newspaper editor might just ‘have something’.

We held press conferences to keep the case in the public eye, re-enacted Rikki’s ‘last day’ in a woefully inadequate YouTube video (but which has been seen 40,000 times) and, finally, the major crimes unit was convinced.

They re-opened the files. Officially. BBC Crimewatch followed.

It has cost me, personally, much. My health suffered. I was stressed and worn out.

But I grew fond of Ruth and Gary. And never wanted to quit — even when a family member threw hot coffee over me for ‘siding with that scum’.

Now, verdict, in, I am simply relieved. That’s it. Since the jury went out, I spent nearly every day with Ruth awaiting the verdict.

John Elworthy and Ruth Neave after the guilty verdict at The Old Bailey

She is tired and exhausted but delighted, finally, the truth can be told.

She didn’t murder her son.

  • In 2022, Behind Local News aims to celebrate local journalism in all its forms through our 365 Acts of Local Journalism Project. Lets us know what you think should be included. You can email us here or contact us via Twitter on BehindLocalNews or on Facebook here.

>> See the series so far, here

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