EXCLUSIVE: Sharp-eyed member of the public unearths what could prove to be vital lead in case of missing Leah Croucher from Milton Keynes
Member of the public spotted an image on Google Earth which appears to be a girl alive and seemingly 'hidden' in a disused barn
A member of the public who zoomed in to Google Earth has spotted a girl resembling Leah Croucher peering out of a disused barn 18 miles away from MK - taken a month after she went missing.
The photo has been passed to police, who confirm they are now investigating it.
Though it is blurred, the face shape and hairline seem similar to that of Leah, who inexplicably vanished while walking to work on February 15 2019.
The searches for the then 19-year-old and police appeals for witnesses have primarily revolved around Milton Keynes, but this barn is in the grounds of a large house in Eaton Bray, 18 miles away in Bedfordshire.
However, The MK Citizen can now reveal that the same house and grounds were searched by police almost two years ago as part of the Leah investigation.
One Eaton Bray resident said: "The house was empty and on the market at the time. We saw police digging up the grounds and people were told it was part of the search for Leah Croucher. The property was even taken off the market for a while until the police had finished."
The resident added: "Rumours spread around the village and everyone was gossiping about it. But nothing seemed to come of the search, so we thought it was just a red herring. We could never understand why Eaton Bray was involved."
The person who owned the house at the time, a female who lived on her own, has spoken willingly to the Citizen.
She says she left the house in February 2019 because there was a vendetta against her, allegedly from a gang involved in drugs and sex trafficking.
"I feared for my life," she said.
The woman says she left a key with an acquaintance to care for her three pets, which she was unable to take with her. Heartbreakingly, the three dogs were found starved to death in the kitchen of the house in June 2019. An RSPCA prosecution into the case has since been dropped.
The property was sold last year and there is no suggestion that the new owners are in any way connected with the case.
But this month, mentions of the Eaton Bray police search re-surfaced on social media - on the online forum Web Sleuths and also the Facebook page 'Leah Croucher Disappearance - Community Investigation'.
The aim of the Facebook group, which has 1,200 members, is to share information and thoughts that may lead to insight into what has happened to Leah.
One member was curious about what the property looked liked and how big the grounds were, so she decided to find it on Google Earth.
"I zoomed into the house then moved the cursor along to one of the barns next to it. I zoomed in, then zoomed again - and then I couldn't believe my eyes. I thought I was seeing things at first," they said.
"I could see someone in one of the barns, visible through out of a big opening in the wall.. It was clearly a female and it looked as though she had a red blanket of jacket round her. She was just sitting there..."
The date on the Google Earth image was March 2019.
"It was the month after Leah disappeared," said the member.
"The more I looked at the photo, the more it seemed to resemble Leah. The girl looks the same age, she has the same hairline, same eyes and same lovely slightly chubby cheeks.
"It made shivers run down my spine. My heart was beating so fast I thought I'd have a heart attack. Could this be Leah - alive - in March 2019? And if so, how did she get to be in a barn? It looks as though she was in hiding or someone had hidden her - but why? The questions were running through my head."
The following morning the member went to MK Police Station and handed the information to police. The Citizen has now handed police details from our interview with the former owner of the house.
A police spokesman for the Leah investigation team told the Citizen: "Thames Valley Police can confirm it received some images, which are being reviewed by the investigation team into the disappearance of Leah Croucher."
He added: "We would always continue to urge the public to contact Thames Valley Police with any information that may assist the investigation, either by calling 101 or making a report online, or by visiting Milton Keynes police station, quoting reference number 43190049929."
The Citizen asked if it would jeopardise any investigation if we reported on the Google Earth photos.
The spokesman said: "It wouldn’t be appropriate to comment further on these images, as they are currently with the investigation team. However, we have no issues with you reporting this."