Shropshire Star

Leah Croucher’s family fears for others unless failings ‘properly addressed’

The martial arts expert, 19, disappeared while walking to work in Milton Keynes in 2019 and her body was found three years later.

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Undated handout photo issued by Milton Keynes Coroner’s Court of Leah Croucher.

The family of Leah Croucher, who was unlawfully killed after going missing while walking to work, fear another family will have to “face the same awful consequences we will never recover from” unless failings identified during her inquest are “properly addressed”.

Senior coroner Tom Osborne said the 19-year-old was murdered by Neil Maxwell, a previously convicted sex offender, after going missing on February 15 2019.

Her remains were discovered in the loft of a house in October 2022 in Furzton, Milton Keynes, less than half a mile from where she was last seen, after a tip-off from a maintenance worker.

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

Undated file handout photo issued by Thames Valley Police of Leah Croucher.
Undated file handout photo issued by Thames Valley Police of Leah Croucher. (Thames Valley Police/PA)

Mr Osborne identified a number of failings in the monitoring of Maxwell, and said the failings did not contribute directly to her death, but it is “possible that the findings may have played a part”.

Mr Osborne labelled the take up and vetting of officers that can use a system for sharing information called Visor “woefully inadequate” and will be writing a preventing future deaths report to the minister who will be in charge of prisons and probation to ask for a fundamental review.

In a statement after the conclusion of the inquest at Milton Keynes Coroner’s Court, Ms Croucher’s father John Croucher said: “The current system is not equipped to properly manage these offenders and we fear that until these failings are properly addressed, another family will have to face the same awful consequences we will never recover from.”

Mr Croucher also said the failings “not only allowed this repeat offender to assault others and kill our Leah, but also led to the death of Leah’s brother Haydon who never recovered from Leah going missing and was so distraught (he) took his own life”.

Mr Croucher said his daughter was “severely let down by the police and probation service who have acknowledged significant failings in their supervision and monitoring of Maxwell” and the family “sincerely hope that lessons are learned from how Leah was failed”.

He said the inquest has not answered the family’s key questions about the “failings in the apprehension of the key suspect in this matter” and they ask the police “to be open with us” and answer their questions about the investigation.

The failings included: an inexperienced probation officer supervising Maxwell who had little experience of supervising sex offenders; the risk that Maxwell posed to the public being “underestimated and unreported”; the failure in the process to monitor Maxwell with regard to his attendance at appointments and for him to live at the address he was supposed to live at; a failure in the risk assessment carried out; and a failure to properly share information between police and probation in regard to the Visor system.

Ms Croucher was a black belt in taekwondo and Caroline Haughey KC, representing Ms Croucher’s family, asked Superintendent Kevin Brown, of Thames Valley Police, if he believed it was “likely to be an unwarranted sexual attack and in fact because of her martial arts ability, she reacted and subsequently died”.

Mr Brown said: “I believe she would have defended herself, that may have escalated the situation.”

The inquest heard a post-mortem examination was inconclusive and Ms Croucher was identified by her dental records.

Her cause of death was unascertained due to decomposition.

Maxwell was a handyman and the only person with keys to the property 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.

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