Police and probation services admit failings and 'lost opportunities' in Leah Croucher case

  • Watch a report by ITV News Anglia's Elodie Harper

Police and probation services have admitted failings and "lost opportunities" in the case of a teenage woman who vanished on the way to work.

Leah Croucher, 19, disappeared the day after Valentine's Day in 2019 and no trace of her was found for more than three years despite a large search operation.

The teenager's body was eventually discovered at a house in Milton Keynes in October 2022 less than half-a-mile from where she was last seen after a tip-off from a member of the public.

Prime suspect Neil Maxwell was a wanted and previously-convicted sex offender who killed himself while on the run from police in April 2019, two months after Ms Croucher vanished.

Maxwell was the only person with keys to the property on Loxbeare Drive, Furzton, where Ms Croucher's body was found.

He was wanted for a sex attack in Newport Pagnell, Milton Keynes, in November 2018, and used false names to evade arrest, as well as stopping using his phone and car.

Officers believe he also lost weight and grew a beard to change his appearance. In January 2023, Thames Valley Police released a computer generated e-fit of Maxwell as detectives tried to confirm that he had killed Ms Croucher.

Neil Maxwell is thought to have grown a beard and lost weight in his efforts to evade police. Credit: Thames Valley Police

Senior coroner at Milton Keynes Coroner's Court, Tom Osborne, said the inquest would look at admitted failings by the police and probation services that had not yet been specified publicly.

Internal reviews had been carried out and the court heard that a redacted report on the Thames Valley Police investigation included around 250 documents.

Leah Croucher's remains were found in a house on Loxbeare Drive in Milton Keynes in October 2022. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Speaking after hearing the Croucher family’s lawyer Caroline Haughey KC told ITV News that what happened to Leah should not happen to another family and her parents need to know that lessons have been learned.

The coroner said if the failings had not been sufficiently amended, then a report to prevent future deaths would be ordered, where he could tell organisations, government departments and individuals what action needed to betaken.

He said: "If I am satisfied that those failings and concerns have been addressed satisfactorily by further statements from police and probation, then I no longer have that duty to make those points."

But he added a future deaths report could help fulfil the Croucher family's wish that "we do not want another family going through what we've been through".

The inquest will be heard on June 19 and 20.

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