Police boss orders review into handling of Leah Croucher missing persons inquiry after force launched murder probe and named sex offender as prime suspect following discovery of human remains
- Leah Croucher, 19, went missing in February 19 and a three year search began
- Last week human remains and her belongings found in a house in Milton Keynes
- Cops had called on the same property after she vanished but got no response
- Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley has called for a review
A police and crime commissioner has demanded a review of the way detectives handled the missing persons case of Leah Croucher after human remains were found and a murder inquiry was launched.
On Monday of last week a contractor called to a £500,000 four-bed home in Loxbeare Drive, Milton Keynes, that had been left empty by its owner. Human remains and Leah’s belongings were found in the loft.
It has emerged that when the 19-year-old went missing three years and eight months ago officers had called at the detached house on two occasions but got no response and pushed a leaflet through the door requesting a call back if the residents had any information.
The property is half a mile from her home and on the route Leah used to walk to work.
Matthew Barber, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley which covers Milton Keynes, has now asked the Chief Constable to present him with a review of the case to determine if any further inquiry is required.
Leah Croucher, 19, (pictured) was last seen on CCTV on her way to her job on February 15, 2019, but never made it to work
On Monday human remains were found in the loft of a property at Loxbeare Drive in Furzton, Milton Keynes (pictured) along with Leah’s rucksack and other personal possessions
Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley Matthew Barber has now asked the Chief Constable to present him with a review of the case to determine if any further inquiry is required
Various posters were released to try and find the teenager after she went missing in February 2019
Enquiries have led police to name convicted sex offender Neil Maxwell as the only suspect in her murder.
Maxwell, a handyman, had access to the house to carry out work in February 2019 when Leah vanished.
In April 2019, two months later, Maxwell hanged himself in Campbell Park, Milton Keynes.
He was on the run from the police, having been named as a man wanted for a sex attack on a woman in her 20s in Newport Pagnell, Bucks.
Neil Maxwell took his own life two months after Leah’s disappearance and has been named as the prime suspect in the police investigation
This was the final image of Leah ever captured before she disappeared and failed to show up to work
Matthew Barber said: ‘The disappearance of Leah Croucher back in 2019 has hung over the community of Milton Keynes. Hundreds of Thames Valley Police Officers have supported the search for Leah, conducting thousands of house to house enquiries, reviewing many hundreds of hours of CCTV footage.
‘The news that the investigation has moved from a missing persons enquiry to a murder investigation following the discovery of human remains will be the most bitter blow to Leah’s family and will be felt across the city.
‘Given the time that has passed questions have inevitably been raised about the earlier investigation and there is an understandable desire for more information.
‘I have been briefed on developments throughout the week and have naturally discussed the case at length with the Chief Constable.
‘None of the information I have received so far leads me to conclude that there were shortcomings in the earlier missing persons investigation. Nevertheless I have requested that the Chief Constable presents me with a review of the case in order to determine if any further inquiry is required.’
He added: ‘When the investigation changed from a missing person’s inquiry to a murder inquiry, the head of the Major Crime Unit was appointed as the senior investigating officer with Head of Crime, Detective Chief Superintendent Ian Hunter, having strategic oversight.
‘If mistakes have been made I will ensure a thorough review of the missing persons investigation, but I must stress that this will be evidence-led and so far I have seen nothing to suggest any reasonable lines of enquiry were missed.
‘Of course the priority remains the murder investigation and whilst the family are being kept fully informed I will not comment further on the details of the case.
‘Over the last three years officers from across the Force have been involved in search for Leah. The police and communities across Thames Valley have all been saddened by this week’s discovery. Leah’s family have spoken on their thanks to the police and my thoughts are with Leah’s family as they come to terms with this heartbreaking news’.
Thames Valley Police have said: ‘The property in Loxbeare Drive is a complex and challenging scene, and I want to let local residents know that it could be a number of weeks before we are able to conclude our forensic examinations.’
A memorial service was held last night for Leah, with the community of Furzton, Milton Keynes, invited to ‘come together, to reflect, to pray and to light a candle’ at the Servant King Church and Ridgeway Community Centre.
Timeline of Leah Croucher’s disappearance
Prime suspect Neil Maxwell is reported to Bedfordshire Police for a sexual assault in Newport Pagnell.
8am: Leah, 19, sets off for work as normal to her admin job with finance company in Milton Keynes.
5.45pm: Leah walks home from work. The location settings on her Samsung phone were switched off in the Furzton Lake area.
6pm: Leah arrives home from work. She changes into tracksuit bottoms and a long-sleeved top. She tells her mum she is going to visit a friend.
7.15pm: Leah arrives home again. Her behaviour that night was totally normal, say her parents.
8am: Leah gets up and leaves for work. She sets off on her normal route, wearing a black coat, skinny black jeans, black Converse high top shoes and carrying a small black rucksack. Underneath her coat she wears a distinctive grey hoodie.
8.13am: CCTV footage shows her walking along Buzzacott Lane in Furzton. That was the last confirmed sighting of Leah.
8.34am: Leah’s mobile phone is switched off.
9am: Leah fails to arrive at work.
9.30am – 11.15am: Three different witnesses report seeing a girl matching Leah’s description walking by Furzton Lake. She was looking ‘visibly upset’ and crying while talking on the phone. Police have never been able to say definitely that this was Leah.
6pm: Leah fails to return home. She is reported missing.
Police issue a press release saying Leah is missing.
Police release the CCTV footage of Leah. They are becoming ‘increasingly concerned’ for her welfare. Her phone is switched off and cannot be traced and her bank account has not been touched.
In the following weeks divers scour Furzton Lake and fingertip searches are carried out. Leah’s family and friends put posters up appealing for information.
A public appeal is issued to find Maxwell.
The convicted sex offender is found dead.
BBC’s Crimewatch Roadshow re-enacts Leah’s disappearance and appeals for information. It shows the clothing Leah was wearing on the day she vanished.
Viewer contacts the show saying she remembers walking at the Blue Lagoon lake in Bletchley, Milton Keynes in February and seeing a grey hoodie just near the water, like the one Leah was wearing.
Police launch a major search at the Blue Lagoon. Nothing of any significance is found.
Leah’s brother Haydon Croucher killed himself in his flat in Bletchley, Milton Keynes, and was found by his mother and sister.
February 14, 2020
Leah’s parents Claire and John Croucher issue a fresh appeal at a media conference at Milton Keynes Police Station a year after her disappearance.
February 15, 2021
Her family issue a statement appealing for help to find her on the second anniversary of her disappearance.
In an emotional statement they said: ‘It’s now been two years since our beautiful, wonderful daughter Leah, left for work and vanished without a trace. Missing. Gone.
‘To say they have been a hard two years is an understatement. They have been the longest and toughest two years of our lives.’
February 15, 2022
Police release a new image of a person dressed in black seen at Furzton Lake to mark the third year of her disappearance.
In a written statement Leah’s family said each day ‘feels like an eternity of pain and despair’, but said they remained hopeful she would one day be found.
‘It is harder each day to tell ourselves that today will be the day that we get answers, today we find out what happened three years ago,’ her parents said.
Monday October 10, 2022
Remains, believed to be Leah, are found in a house in Loxbeare Drive, Milton Keynes, which she passed every day on her way to work. Her belongings were found inside.
Friday October 14
At a press conference, police name Neil Maxwell as the prime suspect in Leah’s murder.
If you are affected by the issues raised in this article, you can contact the Samaritans for free and completely anonymously on 116 123.
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