Pictured: Neil Maxwell, the convicted sex offender suspected of killing Leah Croucher
The Leah Croucher murder suspect’s former boss tonight revealed how he warned police of his belief that the pervert could kill, as it emerged that bungling officers missed 18 opportunities to snare him after he was jailed for a sex attack.
Neil Maxwell was today named as the man detectives believe was responsible for killing the 19-year-old, who vanished in February 2019.
The convicted sex offender killed himself two months later, sparking fears that he may have held her captive for weeks while police and relatives made heart-wrenching appeals for the teenager’s safe return.
Now, the Mail can reveal the true extent of Maxwell’s criminal history, including the moment in which a magistrate spared him a prison sentence in 2018 when he pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a woman, despite already being a convicted rapist.
Maxwell, then aged 48, admitted committing a sexual assault on a woman in Milton Keynes in February 2018 and was sentenced to 200-hours of unpaid work and made to pay £85 court costs and £1,000 compensation. He was also placed on the sex offender’s register for five years.
At the time of the offence, Maxwell had only recently been released from prison for raping a teenage girl in 2009, for which he was handed a four-and-a-half year sentence.
The pervert went on to strike again just nine months later. He was on the run for that offence at the time of Leah’s disappearance, but had managed to evade arrest on 18 occasions.
Thames Valley Police told MailOnline earlier that Maxwell was aware officers were searching for him and he ‘made concerted efforts to evade arrest’ by using false names and changing his mobile phone and car often, fleeing as far as Scotland.
His image was circulated as a wanted person on the national database and police issued a ‘wanted appeal’ on April 4, 2019, a spokesman said.
Matthew Barber, Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner, has asked the force’s chief constable to conduct an investigation into the handling of Leah’s disappearance to determine if an inquiry is needed.
‘Given the time that has passed questions have inevitably been raised about the earlier investigation and there is an understandable desire for more information,’ he said.
‘None of the information I have received so far leads me to conclude that there were shortcomings in the earlier missing persons investigation. Nevertheless I have requested that the Chief Constable presents me with a review of the case in order to determine if any further inquiry is required.
‘If mistakes have been made I will ensure a thorough review of the missing persons investigation, but I must stress that this will be evidence-led and so far I have seen nothing to suggest any reasonable lines of enquiry were missed.’
Maxwell’s reign of terror only came to an end when he ended his life on April 20, 16 days after the police issued the public appeal.
The convicted sex attacker was the only person with keys to the house in Milton Keynes where human remains were found next to Leah’s backpack earlier this week.
Now, a former employer has come forward to reveal he raised his concerns about Maxwell to police and warned: ‘He is one evil f***er, he can’t control his urges for sex and he’s going to kill someone.’
‘I was fuming with the police. He liked young girls, he was a rapist, a dangerous man. They have let the system down – that man should have been locked up for life.’
Leah Croucher was 19 when she disappeared on her way to work in February 2019. Police have now discovered human remains at a house in Milton Keynes, along with some of Leah’s possessions
Detective Chief Superintendent Ian Hunter told a news conference today: ‘Today, I am able to confirm that we have nominated a suspect in this case. His name is Neil Maxwell’
Leah’s sister Jade, father John Croucher and mother Claire Croucher look at flowers outside a property in Loxbeare Drive, Furzton, Milton Keynes, where police identified human remains during forensic examinations
Notes for ‘our darling Leah’ from her parents and sister are left outside the house where police found a body in the search for the missing teenager. The remains were removed last night
The business owner, who wanted to remain anonymous, told The Daily Mirror he was unaware Maxwell had only recently finished a stint in prison when he was hired.
Maxwell went out of his way to do a good job and appeared helpful and attentive, but the employer happened across a probation report which described him as a ‘dangerous man’.
‘He’s sick in the head with his hunger for young girls. It’s disgusting what’s gone on,’ he told The Daily Mail.
‘They could have saved that girl. If they had listened to me that girl wouldn’t be dead. The whole system has completely failed her… My eldest daughter used to play with him, she was about 11.’
The convicted sex pest remained at the company for a few years before he was jailed for four-and-a-half years in 2009 for raping a woman in her late teens.
A former girlfriend who dated Maxwell as an underage schoolgirl while he was in his mid-20s, also described an ‘unhealthy interest he had in children’.
She described Maxwell as controlling and said he groomed her and took advantage of her.
‘He was well known in the area for trying to pin down girls and force himself on them… Eventually everyone kept away from him. He was a deeply sinister character. It’s horrible that he did this to Leah but, to be honest, I’m not surprised in the slightest,’ she said.
Detective Chief Superintendent Ian Hunter said formal identification of the body has not yet taken place, but they do believe it is Leah.
The family of Leah Croucher bring floral tributes to the property last night. Her relatives have said their ‘darkest fears had come true’ after human remains were found on Monday
Members of the Croucher family are let under a cordon by police after arriving at the property
How convicted rapist Neil Maxwell avoided 18 arrest attempts
Describing the hunt for Leah’s alleged murderer, DCS Ian Hunter said: ‘A significant amount of enquiries were made nationally to locate Maxwell and these included 18 attempts to arrest him.
‘In April 2019, when we published our wanted appeal regarding Maxwell in connection with the sexual assault in Newport Pagnell, and during our entire investigation to find Leah, there has been no direct link between Maxwell and Leah until Monday this week when we were called about the property in Loxbeare Drive.
‘Maxwell has 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 Thames Valley Police first tried to arrest Maxwell in Milton Keynes the following day – November 30 – but were unable to find him.
He continued: ‘We established that Maxwell was at an unknown location in Scotland at one stage, but further arrest attempts were continually made throughout the UK at various different addresses.’
He is likely to have known that he would be returning to prison if he was arrested and convicted, DCS Hunter said.
‘If Maxwell were alive today, we would be seeking his arrest in connection with this investigation, so he could be interviewed under caution to provide his account.’
He said police were unaware of any potential links between Maxwell and Leah until a maintenance worker alerted police on Monday to a suspicious object in a loft of the property.
Today, Thames Valley faced questions about how they failed to catch the convict despite saying officers had tried to arrest him 18 times.
At a press conference this afternoon, a senior officer said police were looking into the possibility Leah was held captive as an ‘active part of our investigation’. Maxwell took his own life aged 49 in April 2019 – two months after Leah went missing.
Local resident Jill Davey, who lives on the same road as the house where the human remains were found, told MailOnline the teenager would still be alive if officers had ‘done their job properly’. She added: ‘It’s all very well for them to say they tried to arrest him, but 18 times and to keep missing him is nonsense.’
Following the press conference, senior Tory MP Bob Blackman called on the Independent Office for Police Conduct, to look at the case. He called on the police watchdog to examine any contact Thames Valley Police had with Maxwell and the force’s claims he evaded arrest 18 times.
Mr Blackman told MailOnline: ‘This tragedy is just the sort of case the IOPC should review. It is heart-breaking for the family of Leah Croucher’s family’. He added: ‘This case is clearly not cut and dried – and it also shows the kind of sexual predators police have to deal with. They are often very clever at evading arrest’.
It previously emerged the house where human remains were found had been occupied by Alex Johnston, a 30-year-old paedophile who once appeared on 24 Hours in Police Custody. But he was in prison at the time Leah disappeared after being sentenced to four-and-a-half years in June 2017 for five counts of engaging in sexual activity with a girl aged between 13 and 15.
Detective Chief Superintendent Ian Hunter told a news conference today: ‘Today, I am able to confirm that we have nominated a suspect in this case. His name is Neil Maxwell. 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.
‘Maxwell had been employed by the homeowner to carry out some property maintenance at the house. We now know that Maxwell had keys to this property from November 2018. Whilst 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.
‘If Maxwell were alive today, we would be seeking his arrest in connection with this investigation, so he could be interviewed under caution to provide his account.’
Various flowers, candles and teddy bears have all been left at the scene, many addressed directly to Leah
A bouquet and wreath laid on behalf of Leah’s parents were accompanied by a handwritten note, which promised to ‘fight ahead’ for justice
Bombshell press conference at a glance
At today’s bombshell press conference, it emerged –
Police named the prime suspect in the murder of Leah Croucher as convicted sex offender Neil Maxwell;
He was the only person with keys to the house where human remains were found next to Leah’s backpack;
Maxwell was known to police due to his previous convictions for sexual assaults against women;
On November 29, 2018, he was reported to Bedfordshire Police for a sexual assault in Newport Pagnell;
Passed to Thames Valley Police who first tried to arrest him at a house in Milton Keynes the following day;
Maxwell’s name was put on the Police National Computer in December 2018 in relation to the sex assault;
Thames Valley Police also issued a public wanted appeal to find Maxwell on April 4, 2019;
18 attempts were made to arrest Maxwell evaded police by using an alias and changing his phone and car;
One attempt was made to arrest the sex offender in Scotland;
Convicted criminal was found dead on April 20, 2019, having taken his own life at the age of 49;
Police are now trying to establish whether Maxwell saw Croucher when she walked past the house;
Officers examining whether Leah was hold hostage; but would not say if she killed at house or elsewhere;
Formal identification of the human remains has not yet taken place but will do so ‘as soon as possible;
Police would not say if any weapons had been found by officers searching the property
DCS Hunter told today’s press conference in Milton Keynes: ‘I cannot even begin to imagine what it is like for Leah’s parents and family, for three years and eight months not knowing what has happened to their daughter and loved one.
‘All of the investigation team who are working on this case are dedicated to finding the truth for Leah’s family.’
The human remains were found in the loft of the property at Loxbeare Drive in Furzton, Milton Keynes, DCS Hunter, Thames Valley Police’s head of crime, said.
Asked how long the human remains had been in the house and where they were found, he said: ‘Of course, we have got an ongoing investigation so we will need to establish some of those facts.
‘I will reveal today that the rucksack containing Leah’s possessions and the human remains were found in the loft – that is what is making this so complex and challenging for us to be able to work through.’
Thames Valley Police were asked if it was possible that Maxwell had targeted Ms Croucher after seeing her as she was walking to work on a route that took her close to the property.
DCS Hunter said: ‘This inquiry was always extremely challenging. If we go back to Buzzacott Lane and the CCTV at 8.16am on February 15 2019 – there were no further lines of inquiry that helped us from there.
‘Of course, Leah’s route to work has always been subject to intense scrutiny throughout our investigation. (There were) 4,000 properties visited and CCTV that we were able to obtain has been viewed.
‘At this stage, it is of course an active line of our inquiry – did Leah walk past that house and some sort of action took place? That is exactly what the investigation team are going to try and establish.’
The police would not say if Leah had been killed at the house or elsewhere or if she had been held hostage.
A Home Office pathologist is carrying out a post-mortem examination to try and determine a cause of death.
DCS Hunter said the Croucher family had been fully briefed on the latest developments and their ‘nominated’ suspect.
In a statement read out at a press conference, the 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.’
Leah Croucher, 19, was last seen making her way into work in Milton Keynes in February 2019
House was just a 20-minute walk from Leah’s home
The detached home where human remains were found is owned by a Kuwaiti based family who have rented it out for over two decades.
Local residents missing teenager Leah Croucher would walk past the home every day on her way to work as an admin assistant.
The 19-year-old lived less than half a mile away from the £490,000 home where human remains along with her rucksack and other possessions were found.
Forensic teams continued to work at the property which has a rusting truck parked in the driveway.
Jill Davey, who lives close to the house, said: ‘Leah used to walk past the house every day. I would see her walking to work.
‘It just sickens me… The police were meant to have searched all the houses around here, but they obviously didn’t do their job properly. I just hope they can find whoever did this.’
Records show the four-bedroom detached home was rented to a number of tenants.
One neighbour said:’ It has been empty for quite a few months. I never knew the people who owned the house, but like a lot of properties it was a family from Kuwait.’
Murder squad detectives were talking to close neighbours to find out as much detail as possible about the tenants who rented the house.
A small group of neighbours stood opposite the police blue tape that had sealed off the house. A blue tent had been erected adjacent to the front door.
One resident said: ‘Anyone who lives on the estate remembers Leah going missing and the police search.
‘I would never have thought that she would be found in a house on the estate. She was so close to home.’
A missing poster for Leah Croucher is still pinned to a tree less than 15 yards from the property.
After dark last night Leah’s family arrived to tearfully lay tributes to a beloved daughter and sister. An undertaker carried a bouquet of flowers as he then accompanied the parents to a makeshift memorial at the front of the house which is at the centre of the police investigation.
A note left with the flowers read: ‘To our darling Leah. Our darkest fears have come true, we only need to be apart a little longer now.
‘We have so missed you for so long already. The future looks so bleak now. We know we will never see hour smile or hear your laughter again. We will cherish your memories forever. We love you, Mum and dad’.
Another note, by Leah’s elder sister Jade, read: ‘To my beautiful sister Leah, My heart has broken, my mind racing with thoughts and my body numb. How can a life as beautiful as yours come to an end in such a tragic way.
‘I have loved you from your very first breath and I will love you until my last. There has never been a moment when you were not in my thoughts and there never will be.
‘My only comfort is that you and Hayden are together in heaven. All my love forever your big sister Jade and nephew Reggie.’
The remains of the body were taken away in a three-car convoy. Police had sealed off Loxbeare Drive to traffic while the family were at the scene.
Leah was last captured on CCTV on her way to her job on February 15, 2019, but never made it to work.
Well-wishers have laid flowers, candles, teddy bears and tea-lights in the shape of the letter L at the edge of the police tape cordoning off the two-storey brick house and its neighbouring detached property.
Flowers left at the scene by friends of Mr and Mrs Croucher on their behalf had a heart-wrenching handwritten note which promised to ‘never give up fighting’ for their daughter.
It comes as metal fencing covered with black screens was erected in the driveway of the empty £490,000 house, just a 20-minute walk from Leah’s home and less than half a mile from where the teenager was last seen.
Another small bouquet was signed ‘Nan and Grandad.’ It read: ‘We will never stop seeking answers. With love and miss you always.’
Tragically, nine months after she went missing, Leah’s half-brother Haydon Croucher, 24, was discovered by his mother Tracey Furness hanged at his flat and later died in hospital – landing the family a further blow. An inquest heard he struggled to cope following her disappearance.
Leah’s mother previously said her disappearance had ‘destroyed’ their family, adding that if she had been abducted or killed they would hold the culprit responsible for Haydon’s death as well.
Home CCTV captured Leah Croucher as she walked to work on the morning of February 15, 2019
An aerial view of the house in Furzton, Milton Keynes where police have found human remains
Flowers are laid earlier this morning outside the home where a body was found in the hunt for missing Leah Croucher
Various posters were released to try and find the teenager after she went missing in February 2019
Police have launched a murder investigation after finding human remains in their search for missing teenager Leah Croucher
It has emerged that the £490,000 house, which the teenager is thought to have regularly walked past on her way to work, was once occupied by a convicted paedophile. Pictured: Floral tributes are left outside the property
Timeline of missing Leah Croucher’s disappearance
November 29, 2018
Prime suspect Neil Maxwell is reported to Bedfordshire Police for a sexual assault in Newport Pagnell.
8am: Leah, 19, sets off for work as normal to her admin job with finance company in Milton Keynes.
5.45pm: Leah walks home from work. The location settings on her Samsung phone were switched off in the Furzton Lake area.
6pm: Leah arrives home from work. She changes into tracksuit bottoms and a long-sleeved top. She tells her mum she is going to visit a friend.
7.15pm: Leah arrives home again. Her behaviour that night was totally normal, say her parents.
8am: Leah gets up and leaves for work. She sets off on her normal route, wearing a black coat, skinny black jeans, black Converse high top shoes and carrying a small black rucksack. Underneath her coat she wears a distinctive grey hoodie.
8.13am: CCTV footage shows her walking along Buzzacott Lane in Furzton. That was the last confirmed sighting of Leah.
8.34am: Leah’s mobile phone is switched off.
9am: Leah fails to arrive at work.
9.30am – 11.15am: Three different witnesses report seeing a girl matching Leah’s description walking by Furzton Lake. She was looking ‘visibly upset’ and crying while talking on the phone. Police have never been able to say definitely that this was Leah.
6pm: Leah fails to return home. She is reported missing.
Police issue a press release saying Leah is missing.
Police release the CCTV footage of Leah. They are becoming ‘increasingly concerned’ for her welfare. Her phone is switched off and cannot be traced and her bank account has not been touched.
In the following weeks divers scour Furzton Lake and fingertip searches are carried out. Leah’s family and friends put posters up appealing for information.
A public appeal is issued to find Maxwell.
The convicted sex offender is found dead.
BBC’s Crimewatch Roadshow re-enacts Leah’s disappearance and appeals for information. It shows the clothing Leah was wearing on the day she vanished.
Viewer contacts the show saying she and remembers walking at the Blue Lagoon lake in Bletchley, Milton Keynes in February and seeing a grey hoodie just near the water, like the one Leah was wearing.
Police launch a major search at the Blue Lagoon. Nothing of any significance is found.
Leah’s brother Haydon Croucher killed himself in his flat in Bletchley, Milton Keynes, and was found by his mother and sister.
February 14, 2020
Leah’s parents Claire and John Croucher issue a fresh appeal at a media conference at Milton Keynes Police Station a year after her disappearance.
February 15, 2021
Her family issue a statement appealing for help to find her on the second anniversary of her disappearance.
In an emotional statement they said: ‘It’s now been two years since our beautiful, wonderful daughter Leah, left for work and vanished without a trace. Missing. Gone.
‘To say they have been a hard two years is an understatement. They have been the longest and toughest two years of our lives.’
February 15, 2022
Police release a new image of a person dressed in black seen at Furzton Lake to mark the third year of her disappearance.
In a written statement Leah’s family said each day ‘feels like an eternity of pain and despair’, but said they remained hopeful she would one day be found.
‘It is harder each day to tell ourselves that today will be the day that we get answers, today we find out what happened three years ago,’ her parents said.
Monday October 10, 2022
Remains, believed to be Leah, are found in a house in Loxbeare Drive, Milton Keynes, which she passed every day on her way to work. Her belongings were found inside.
Friday October 14
At a press conference, police name Neil Maxwell as the prime suspect in Leah’s murder.
People view flowers and messages left at the scene after police identified human remains in Furzton, Milton Keynes
Personal items including Leah Croucher’s rucksack have been recovered from the address
Leah is seen on CCTV shortly before she went missing. The teenager was last spotted walking down Buzzacott Lane in Furzton, Buckinghamshire, while on her way to work on the morning of February 15, 2019 before she ‘vanished into thin air’
One image from Furzton Lake, shows a figure of a person dressed in black, who may or may not have been Leah, on the day she disappeared
Hayden Croucher, pictured with his sister Leah, killed himself months after her disappearance after telling a therapist he was finding it difficult to cope