The murder of a six-year-old boy was unsolved for more than two decades due to a “fundamental error”, a court has been told.
James Watson was 13 when he is alleged to have attacked Rikki Neave and strangled him with his own jacket on 28 November, 1994, the Old Bailey heard.
According to police, he stripped Rikki’s body and posed him in a “star shape” in the woods before leaving his clothes in a bin.
Watson, now 40, was seen with Rikki on the day he went missing and police spoke to him at the time as a witness.
Rikki’s mother was accused of the murder and child cruelty but, while she admitted child cruelty, the jury cleared her of the murder in 1996.
Prosecutor John Price QC told the Old Bailey that the jury’s decision to clear Rikki’s mother on the murder charge was correct.
Mr Price added that the “error” that saw her charged with murder was largely due to incorrect weight given to sightings of Rikki at a time when reliable evidence showed he was dead.
“Much of this reliable evidence was itself acquired during the first investigation, but its true significance and importance was misunderstood or ignored.
“This fundamental error deflected the focus of attention of the investigation.
“It took it away from where it should have been.”
That error meant Rikki’s murder remained a mystery until the case was reopened in 2015 and adhesive tapes from Rikki’s clothes were examined.
This allowed the DNA match to Watson to be made.
Mr Price said evidence showed Rikki had walked willingly into the woods where he was subjected to a “surprise attack” from behind.
Marks on his neck suggested he was “most likely” strangled with his own jacket.
At 1.05pm that day, a youth had been seen walking out of a cul-de-sac where Rikki’s clothes were later recovered.
Mr Price also told the jury that Watson was “exhibiting a grotesque interest in the subject of child murder” in late November 1994.
Watson, of no fixed address, has denied murder.