Tragic Rikki Neave was a cheeky little boy whose short life was marred by allegations of violence and neglect.
The six-year-old and his three sisters were known to social services before his murder in November 1994.
At times, he was the object of his mother Ruth Neave’s anger and often had to fend for himself, jurors heard.
Regarded by neighbours as a “little forager”, they would sometimes take pity on Rikki and give him food and drink.
The youngster was also said to have loved his Walkman and was often seen on his estate riding a BMX bike, according to witnesses.
Jurors were shown images of the home Rikki shared with his mother and sisters in Redmile Walk on Peterborough’s Welland Estate.
Even though Ms Neave denied she was abusive towards her son, it was suggested that, on the day of his murder, he made his own breakfast of Weetabix before leaving home.
On that day, as on others before, Rikki set off for school unaccompanied by an adult and never made it to class, the court was told.
His friends said they would often go to the woods on the edge of the estate, catching frogs, making dens and play-fighting with sticks.
After he was found dead in those same woods, Rikki’s clothes were discovered in a bin nearby.
When he was strangled to death from behind, his pockets were stuffed with his little treasures – monster collectable cards and plastic toys.
Ms Neave’s late ex-husband Dean had described the atmosphere in the house.
In a statement read to the court, he said: “I left because of the way Ruth used to treat the children.
“She was always shouting and screaming at the children and was regularly hitting them with her hand.”
He said Ms Neave lost her temper with her older children, Rebecca and Rikki, the most.
Ms Neave’s mood was affected by her misuse of drugs at the time, he said.
Giving evidence, Ms Neave, who was convicted of child cruelty in 1996, denied being responsible for a catalogue of abuse.
It was claimed that, at the age of three years and nine months, Rikki was left screaming after he was locked out of the house in his pyjamas.
Ms Neave allegedly went on to hold her son around his neck in front of police officers until he went “red in the face”.
On a visit to a chemist, she allegedly “thumped Rikki with such force he went flying out the door”.
Defence lawyer Jennifer Dempster QC suggested that Ms Neave would grab Rikki around the neck and push him against a wall “as a punishment for being naughty”.
In August 1994, Ms Neave allegedly “lost her temper” after Rikki called her a “slag”.
Ms Dempster said: “I suggest you grabbed him, forced him against the wall, you pushed his head back, you forcibly opened his mouth and you put a bottle of washing up liquid into it and then you squeezed it.”
Ms Neave responded: “No, that never happened. I put some Fairy liquid into his mouth but it was empty.”
A month before his disappearance, Ms Neave allegedly threatened to kill Rikki after he asked for sweets in a newsagents, jurors heard.
She also wrote “idiot” on his forehead, saying it was a “French word”, it was claimed.
Rikki’s sister Rochelle recalled the abuse at the hands of their biological mother.
In an interview with the PA news agency, she said: “It was a punch, or a kick, or a shove down the stairs. She would pull you by your hair; smack you with the hairbrush if you didn’t want to brush your hair.”
By contrast, she fondly remembered Rikki as loving and caring.
She said: “He would do anything. If there was no food in, he would go to the shop, nick it, come back and feed us.
“He would make sure we were clean. He would run a bath. He was so clean; he loved being clean.”
Former assistant chief constable Paul Fullwood said: “Rikki was a cheeky chap. He would often swear at people – he would probably copy the behaviour of people around him.
“But, at the end of the day, he was a little boy and he didn’t deserve to be murdered in the horrible way he was killed.”