Milton Keynes Citizen story brings potentially 'significant' Leah Croucher information into spotlight
Police are now reviewing details about possible abduction
A story published by the MK Citizen from a frustrated witness in the Leah Croucher case has been criticised by police handling the two-year-old mystery.
On Tuesday we told the story of a woman in her 60s who saw a man aggressively pushing down a passenger in his shiny black car - at almost the same time and place that Leah vanished on her way to work in MK.
The witness, a former professional who had done years of voluntary work in MK, claims she called police to report the sighting after learning of Leah's disappearance. But when speaking to the Citizen the witness is adamant no officer ever came out to interview her face to face or take a full written statement. Thames Valley Police vehemently refutes this claim stating that the witness contacted the force on March 20th 2019, five weeks after Leah went missing.
"We then interviewed the witness as part of our extensive investigation into Leah’s disappearance," police said in a statement.
The witness told the Citizen that she clearly remembers following up her sighting later with an online report to police - but insists she was still not contacted by officers and given the chance to tell her story in full.
Two years and seven months on, the witness plucked up the courage to speak out publicly through the Citizen and urged police to review her information.
Before the Citizen printed the story, we showed it to Leah's family with whom we enjoy an excellent relationship having campaigned to keep her disappearance in the public eye and maintain awareness since her disappearance. The family gave the story their blessing.
The witness sighting happened yards away from Furzton Lake 8.35am and 8.40am on February 15 2019. Leah's phone left the network inexplicably at 8.34am that day- in the area of Furzton Lake.
The woman was waiting in a queue of traffic and watching a car waiting to pull out of a nearby junction when she suddenly saw a foot appear on the dashboard.
"Suddenly a right foot appeared on the dashboard, followed by a left foot....I guessed they belonged to a female because of the size," she told the Citizen.
"As I watched the car, the driver suddenly let go of the steering wheel with both hands, twisted himself round and pushed whoever the feet belonged to down really forcefully. He was using both hands and it seemed a very aggressive thing to do.
"It was like he was trying to hide someone... I've never stopped wondering if what I saw could be relevant," she said.
The story sparked the interest of national papers as the first potential major clue in the heartbreaking case.
You can read our story here.
We included a full comment from Thames Valley Police at the time.
Police published a statement on their website yesterday criticising the story and once again insisting they did interview the witness.
But significantly the police statement says the sighting could have been a "significant development" and states officers in the case will now be "reviewing this information."
The Thames Valley Police statement in full:
"Thames Valley Police is today publishing clarification on the investigation into missing teenager Leah Croucher in Milton Keynes, following information published by the Milton Keynes Citizen on Tuesday (14/9).
On Tuesday the Milton Keynes Citizen published an article relating to the ongoing investigation into missing teenager Leah Croucher, reported missing to the force on 15 February 2019.
The article reported that a witness had contacted us but she stated that our officers had never interviewed her about the information that she had provided.
The article also suggested that the witness contacted the force immediately after Leah went missing.
This is not correct, the witness contacted the force on 20 March 2019, five weeks after Leah went missing.
We then interviewed the witness as part of our extensive investigation into Leah’s disappearance.
The information provided by the witness in the article is also significantly different to the information that they provided to the force at the time, and had this information come to light in March 2019, it would have been a significant development which would have been investigated with the utmost priority.
Although the MK Citizen have clarified in their article that Thames Valley Police had spoken with the witness, we feel it necessary to place on our channels that this was the case and the circumstances surrounding this.
Given the article, Thames Valley Police will now be reviewing this information and we continue to ask anybody with any information relating to Leah’s disappearance, no matter how insignificant you believe this may be, to visit a police station, report online or call 101, quoting 43190049929 or ‘Operation Dawlish’.
We are committed to ascertaining what has happened to Leah, and can reassure the public that we take all leads seriously and follow up all information provided to the investigation team.
Speculation as to what happened to Leah is unhelpful and is likely to cause distress to Leah’s family and friends, and so it is important that any information that can assist this investigation, is given to police at the earliest opportunity."
EDITOR'S COMMENT: As a local newspaper that has spent 31 long months appealing for information to discover what happened to Leah, our main priority is to keep the search for Leah and what happened to her that day a high priority. We have ploughed a lone furrow in that quest at times and our aim is to work with police, the local authorities and Leah's long-suffering family to do all we possibly can to report on the case in a responsible manner in the hope that someone, somewhere will come forward with vital information.
It is important that neither we nor the police are sidetracked by claim and counter claim between witnesses who have been brave enough to come forward with information. It is also important to state the Citizen is not interested in apportioning blame. This is an extremely difficult case for the police and we have been a vessel for them from the very beginning to get information and news to the people of MK and the wider public. However, the indisputable fact is that details of this car and driver were not put out to the public to ask if anyone else had seen it. And it has never been mentioned in any press release or appeal for information about Leah.