AddThis SmartLayers

Editor hits out at ‘unhealthy’ police-media relations at time of unsolved murder

John Elworthy 1A weekly newspaper editor who successfully fought to reopen a 20-year-old child murder case has criticised journalists over their “unhealthy collaboration” with police at the time.

John Elworthy, left, who edits the Cambs Times, has spoken out as detectives prepare to announce if and when charges will be brought following the re-investigation into the death of six-year-old Rikki Neave, who was found dead in a ditch near his Peterborough home in 1994.

Rikki’s mother Ruth was jailed in 1996 for seven years for neglect after admitting “appalling ill-treatment” of her son, but was unanimously cleared of murder by a jury.

The Times’s campaign to reopen the case began in January 2014 after Ruth’s husband Gary contacted John, who arranged a press conference to launch a fresh witness appeal and even spent time with the couple on holiday in a bid to “better understand them”.

Cambridgeshire Police subsequently announced in 2015 it would re-investigate Rikki’s murder, but his family have yet to learn if the Crown Prosecution Service will charge anyone as a result.

John told HTFP: “One of the most disturbing features of this case for me has been the approach taken by the major crimes unit today – whose work on the case some 20 or so years after the event has been exemplary – and the ill-fated investigation by police who prosecuted Ruth Neave for her son’s murder at the time.

“The decision to re-open the murder case owes as much to the recognition that the investigating team at the time following an early defined narrative imposed by senior officers that excluded many other possibilities, not least the fact that someone other than Mrs Neave had murdered her son.

“Another disturbing feature – well documented in some of the articles we’ve published and more extensively covered in many more documents not yet published – was the role of the print and TV media in the hunt for Rikki’s killer.

“There was an unhealthy collaboration with some parts of the media in particular that allowed readers and viewers to gain an untruthful picture of the ongoing police investigation, and trial by media it most definitely became.”

John said that at the time TV cameras allowed into Mrs Neave’s home filmed a “sparse and seemingly chaotic home” at odds with the relatively normal domestic scene evidenced by still photographs taken in the aftermath of the murder.

He added: “That the media at the time were force fed the accepted wisdom of the time that Mrs Neave was guilty of murder continued for many years – in fact 10 years after the event one journalist wrote that ‘despite all the evidence’ Mrs Neave was still acquitted.

“The case won’t end though once a decision is taken by the CPS on whether to charge someone – Mrs Neave also found herself in the dock on child cruelty charges to which she pleaded guilty and was jailed for seven years.

“However I’ve unearthed huge discrepancies in the ‘evidence’ that was presented to her and her legal team and that will form a later report once a decision on the murder case has been made. Mrs Neave elected to plead guilty to these charges to devote her time to challenging the murder charge.”