Failings in monitoring sex offender suspected of killing 19-year-old Leah Croucher, coroner concludes

A convicted sex offender who is the prime suspect of killing a 19-year-old woman was not properly monitored, a coroner has concluded.

Senior coroner Tom Osborne said Leah Croucher, who had disappeared while walking to work, was murdered by Neil Maxwell on 15 February 2019.

Her remains were not found until October 2022 in Furzton, Milton Keynes, in the loft of a house left empty during the COVID pandemic, following a tip-off from a maintenance worker.

Detective Superintendent Kevin Brown told an inquest at Milton Keynes Coroner's Court that he believed "absolutely" that Ms Croucher was killed by Maxwell.

Maxwell took his own life in April 2019, two months after Ms Croucher vanished.

He had been convicted of sexual assault in February 2018 and was wanted for a sex attack in Milton Keynes the following November.

To avoid arrest, he used false names and stopped using his phone and car. He was a handyman and the only person with keys to the property where Ms Croucher's body was found.

Maxwell failed to attend a number of probation appointments in 2018 following his conviction, the inquest heard.

He was assessed as medium risk after his conviction for sexual assault in February 2018, the inquest heard. Subsequently, however, it was decided he should have been assessed as high risk.

Mr Osborne said failings in the monitoring of Maxwell did not contribute directly to Ms Croucher's death, but it is "possible that the findings may have played a part".

The take up and vetting of officers who use a system for sharing information called Visor was "woefully inadequate", he said.

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";
• Failures in monitoring over attendance at appointments and over the address Maxwell 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.

Maxwell was a "predator", Mr Osborne said.

In "normal circumstances" - had Maxwell been alive - Thames Valley Police would have approached the Crown Prosecution Service for their "advice around charging", Mr Brown told the inquest.

He added that his "professional experience and knowledge would suggest Leah would have died very close to the day she went missing, if not on it".

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Ms Croucher - a black belt in taekwondo - may have tried to defend herself from a sex attack before she was killed, the inquest heard.

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

He replied: "I believe she would have defended herself [and] that may have escalated the situation."

Ms Croucher was identified by her dental records.

Mr Osborne said that "whoever placed the body in the loft had taken steps to remove certain limbs and place them in plastic bags".

A post-mortem examination was inconclusive and her cause of death was unascertained.