Leah Croucher was 'unlawfully killed' - coroner

Leah Croucher.
Leah Croucher's body was found more than three years after she went missing [South Beds News Agency]

There were failings in monitoring a convicted sex offender who killed a missing teenager, a coroner has warned.

Leah Croucher, 19, disappeared while walking to work on 15 February 2019. Her remains were discovered in a house in Milton Keynes less than half a mile (0.8km) from her home in October 2022.

At the conclusion of the inquest into her death, Tom Osborne said he would write to the new government after the general election calling for a "fundamental review of monitoring of sex offenders in the community".

Mr Osborne concluded that Ms Croucher was "unlawfully killed" by sex offender Neil Maxwell, and was most likely the victim of an "unwarranted sex attack".

He said failures regarding the monitoring of Maxwell by the probation service and police "may have played a part" in her death.

He also labelled the take up and vetting of officers that can use a system for sharing information about sex offenders "woefully inadequate".

A Probation Service spokesperson said: "This was a horrific crime and our thoughts remain with Leah Croucher's family and friends.

"We are sorry for the failings identified and have taken a number of steps to address these, including improved risk management of offenders".

Police search a house in Milton Keynes.
Leah Croucher's body was found in October 2022 and the police investigation concluded in January 2024 [South Beds News Agency]

Ms Croucher's remains were discovered in plastic bags in the loft of a property on Loxbeare Drive in Furzton after a handyman visited the property, tasked with eradicating a smell.

No medical cause of death could be identified, despite extensive testing, Milton Keynes Coroner's Court heard.

Maxwell, 49, who died in April 2019, was linked to the home as he had been a previous handyman for the property, which was used as a holiday home by overseas owners.

In October 2022, he was named by police as the only suspect in the case following the discovery of Ms Croucher's remains.

Det Supt Kevin Brown, of Thames Valley Police, said he believed Ms Croucher died on - or close to - the day she went missing.

Asked by the coroner if on the balance of probabilities she was killed by Maxwell, he said "absolutely".

'Sexual attack'

Caroline Haughey KC, representing Ms Croucher's family, asked if the detective believed it was "likely to be an unwarranted sexual attack and in fact because of her martial arts ability, she reacted and subsequently died".

Det Supt Brown said: "I believe she would have defended herself, that may have escalated the situation."

The coroner's court heard that police first received a phone call about Maxwell in relation to the Leah Croucher investigation in May 2019.

A murder investigation was launched in October 2022 with the discovery of her body.

Mugshot of Neil Maxwell.
Neil Maxwell was named as a suspect by Thames Valley Police in 2022 [Thames Valley Police]

The inquest heard Maxwell was assessed as a medium risk after he was convicted of sexual assault in February 2018, but subsequently it was decided he should have been deemed a high risk.

He also failed to attend a number of probation appointments in 2018 after his conviction, and a police officer dealing with him raised concerns about his lack of communication in January 2019, the inquest heard.

Geoff Davis, head of operations for the south central probation service, said Maxwell's risk level had been "underestimated".

Police had updated a system for sharing information about sex offenders in regards to Maxwell but the update had not been read by the probation service, calling it a "missed opportunity".

Mr Osborne said in his conclusion that Maxwell's risk level had been "underestimated and under-reported".

He also said there was a failure in the process to monitor his attendance at appointments, failures in risk assessments and a failure to share information between police and probation services.

Previously, Thames Valley Police said Maxwell, who was wanted for an alleged sexual assault in Newport Pagnell in November 2018, had used false names to evade arrest.

He had also stopped using his car and mobile phone and officers believed he had lost weight and grown a beard to alter his appearance.

'Kind, caring soul'

Leah Croucher with a marital arts trophy.
Leah Croucher loved martial arts and was described by her family as someone who always tried her best [Family handout]

In a statement read by Ms Croucher's father, John, after the conclusion the family said she had been "severely let down by police and the probation service".

The family said failings allowed a "dangerous individual" to "slip through the gaps".

"He should never have been at large, and if he hadn't been at large he wouldn't have been in a position to cause Leah's death," Mr Croucher said.

Her family said they would "never forget" that the failings led to Leah's death and also the death of her brother Haydon.

"He never recovered from Leah going missing and was so distraught [he] took his own life," Mr Croucher said.

He said the inquest still had not answered "key questions about the failings in the apprehension of the key suspect".

Clare Croucher holding a picture of her daughter. She is standing next to Leah's father John, who is reading a statement to media. Her sister Jade is standing next to her father.
Leah Croucher's family said their daughter had been let down by the police and the probation service [Jo Black/BBC]

In a statement, Assistant Chief Constable Katy Barrow-Grint said "the thoughts of everyone at Thames Valley Police are with the family of Leah Croucher".

She said the investigation included enquiries at 3,675 properties, taking 566 statements and following 1,537 separate lines of enquiry, and that the force was "dedicated to finding the truth for Leah’s family".

"Our murder investigation has concluded that Neil Maxwell was solely responsible for Leah’s death and that he acted alone," she added.

She said Maxwell had been subject to Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA), "an arrangement whereby Probation, Prison and Police work together to assess and manage the risks posed by sexual and violent offenders".

"Since 2019 Thames Valley Police have made improvements that will contribute to the overall effectiveness of the partnership MAPPA arrangements," ACC Barrow-Grint added.

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