Police visited the home where human remains were found in the hunt for missing teenager Leah Croucher at least twice before, it’s emerged.
Convicted sex offender Neil Maxwell has been named as the man suspected of murdering the 19-year-old who vanished on her way to work on February 15, 2019.
He was found dead after taking his own life just weeks after Leah disappeared.
Two days ago, human remains were discovered at a house in Loxbeare Drive in Furzton, Milton Keynes after a tip-off to Thames Valley Police on Monday.
A number of items were found inside the property, including a rucksack and personal possessions belonging to Leah, as well as human remains, prompting police to launch a murder investigation.
In a press conference earlier today, Thames Valley Police’s head of crime, Detective Chief Superintendent Ian Hunter, said Monday’s tip-off was the first time that information was made available to enable the investigation team to provide any link between that address in Loxbeare Drive and Leah.
He added that over the course of visiting 4,000 properties in the force’s desperate hunt for the teenager, the property in Loxbeare Drive was visited at least two times. However, there was no response at the house.
“Therefore, we dropped a leaflet through the letterbox, requesting a call back if the occupants of the property had any information,” said DCS Hunter.
“In addition to the house to house enquiries, we also visited the property to scope what CCTV was available in the area.”
It’s since been established that the property is owned by someone who lives overseas and rarely visits the UK, and has nothing to do with the case.
The owner was not in the UK at the time Leah was reported missing and the house was unoccupied when police attended, the force said.
It’s led to Thames Valley Police identifying Neil Maxwell as the murder suspect.
Maxwell was wanted in relation to an unrelated sexual offence and had been evading investigators, including changing his name and mobile phone and using different vehicles.
DCS Hunter said Maxwell had been doing maintenance work and had keys to the property where Leah’s remains and her rucksack were found in the loft.
“It is unusual to name a suspect, but we have also learned this week that during the time when Leah went missing, and whilst the owner of the property was not in the UK, Maxwell was the only person to have keys to the property,” he added.
“We now know that Maxwell had keys to this property from November 2018.”
It was emphasised that while Maxwell has been nominated as a suspect, “this does not mean he is guilty of any offence”.
“We will keep an open mind, and our detailed investigation will seek to gather sufficient evidence to establish the truth,” DCS Hunter continued.
“This may or may not implicate or exonerate Maxwell or any other persons from the investigation.”
Maxwell had previous convictions for sexual offences against females and was wanted in connection with a sexual assault in Newport Pagnell in November 2018.
The sexual assault was reported to Bedfordshire Police on November 29, 2018 and the case was transferred to Thames Valley Police the same day.
DCS Hunter said: “We first attempted to arrest Maxwell in connection with the sexual assault the following day, November 30, 2018, at an address in central Milton Keynes, but Maxwell was not present.”
It was then established Maxwell was at one stage in Scotland and a total of 18 arrest attempts throughout the UK failed.
The chief said the suspect knew he was wanted and that he would be sent back to prison if convicted.
Thames Valley Police shared Maxwell’s name with other police forces on the Police National Computer in December 2018.
A public wanted appeal was also released to find Maxwell on April 4, 2019, just over two weeks before he was found dead.
It was confirmed by police that there has been “no direct link” between Maxwell and Leah until Monday this week when officers received a tip off from a member of the public.
Anyone who had contact with Maxwell between November 2018 and his death in April 2019 is urged to contact the force.
The chief described the scene at Loxbeare Drive as “complex and challenging” and it could take a number of weeks before forensic examinations are complete.
Hundreds of officers and staff have worked on the search for Leah in the past three-and-a-half years, scouring 1,200 hours of CCTV and carrying out 4,000 house-to-house inquiries.
The search for her has involved specialist police search teams, the mounted section, police dogs, the marine unit and the National Police Air Service.
In a statement, Leah’s heatbroken family said: “We would like to take this opportunity to thank Thames Valley Police for all their efforts over the past three years and eight months.
“We believe that they could not have done anything differently, they have always approached every conversation with dignity and compassion.
“As a family, we ask that everyone respects our privacy as well as our immediate family, at what is one of the most difficult times of our lives.”
If you have any information, contact Thames Valley Police by visiting our website or calling 101, quoting ‘Op Innsbruck’.
Alternatively, you can also call the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.