The Boy in The Woods is the latest true crime offering from BBC Radio 4. In it jounralist Winifred Marks delves into a case that has stayed with her for twenty years, and speaks deeply to our understanding of truth.
Rikki Neave was only six when he was found murdered in 1994 in the woods near his home of Peterborough. His mother. Ruth, was widely understood to be struggling to parent effectively, and to be addicted to drugs, meaning she was already known to the police and social services. Murders of children so young are thankfully unusual, so the national press were of course interested, and soon the small Wellend Estate was flooded with police and reporters.
However, while it appeared to many on-lookers that Ruth and her violently inadequite parenting would be the main suspect, she was accquited when the case came to trial. The case then lay cold for twenty years until new breakthroughs in DNA found that someone else had killed Rikki, and they were tried and convicted.
Marks manages to not just tell the story of Rikki’s murder, but delves further into what lay behind the police and press’s insistence that it must have been Ruth who was behind the murder. Reports of her harsh punishment of her children, as well as Rikki having to steal from local shops because he was starving was probably enough to make up most people’s minds. It is hard to feel sympathy for someone who is willing to so mistreat children, however the laser like focus on Ruth meant that other suspects were ignored.
While the case and the misdirection in it makes it an interesting one in it’s own right, what elevates this podcast is the last episode where Marks lets us hear interviews with Dean Neave, Rikki’s step-father who should probably have also been charged with child cruelty but never was. She also disusses the role of social services and how their chronic underfunding means that no matter how many “lessons are learned” we are doomed to repeate the same mistakes again, until we start prioritising vulnerable children instead of just persuing those who abuse them as an act of mourning or revenge.
For more on how we are letting down vulnerable children see Baby X