14 May 2024

Police and probation have admitted failings in Leah Croucher case – coroner

14 May 2024

Police and probation services have admitted failings and “lost opportunities” in the Leah Croucher case, a pre-inquest review has heard.

Ms Croucher, 19, disappeared while walking to work on February 15 2019 and no trace of her was found for more than three years despite a large search operation.

The teenager’s body was discovered at a house in Milton Keynes 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.

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 was walking to work to carry on a normal day and because of failings, that predator was on the street - he should never have been at large

Speaking after the hearing, Caroline Haughey KC, representing the family, said: “Why should their misery be compounded by failings in the process?

“Leah was walking to work to carry on a normal day and because of failings, that predator was on the street – he should never have been at large.”

She said “this could have happened to any of us” and that the family wanted to ensure “that this will never happen again”.

They had been “subject to vitriol and trauma” online with social media users falsely accusing family members of being involved in Ms Croucher’s death, she added.

Ms Haughey was representing the family pro bono and said “otherwise they would have no-one” because they could not afford counsel.

She told the court she was the only lawyer who would volunteer without a fee.

Mr Osborne 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 be taken.

“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,” he said.

He cautioned “when I get home at night and talk to my wife about my job, she says none of your stories have happy endings”.

But he added that 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”.

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.

The inquest will be heard on June 19 and 20.

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