Missing Leah Croucher was having an affair with an engaged man before her disappearance, her family said today.
The 19-year-old disappeared the day after Valentine’s Day on February 15 and despite a widespread public appeal to find her, nobody has come forward with information.
Leah’s mum Claire has now broken her silence to talk about the relationship with the man, who cannot be named for legal reasons.
Mrs Croucher, of Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, said: ‘It started in the summer of last year. She was talking about this man all the time.
‘It was X this and X that… it was obvious she had a soft spot for him. She’d go and see him in the evenings, paying £13 each way for a taxi.
Leah Croucher, 19, was last seen in Furzton, Milton Keynes just after 8.15am on February 15. Her family last saw her at around 10pm the evening before
Mrs Croucher and her husband John believe Leah (pictured) could have been deceiving them when she told her family that she had stopped seeing the engaged man
‘It just wasn’t like Leah to do things like that – she’d always been such a home-loving person and didn’t like going out much.
‘Then we found out he was engaged.
‘I remember saying to Leah: ‘Don’t you go falling for him, he will never be yours.’ I was under the impression that she’d stopped seeing him then.’
Mrs Croucher and her husband John believe Leah could have been deceiving them, and said they believed she had secretly stayed the night with him at a local Travelodge.
‘Her behaviour changed, ever so slightly.
Leah (pictured) disappeared the day after Valentine’s Day on February 15 and despite a widespread public appeal to find her, nobody has come forward with information
‘I didn’t really take much notice at the time but now, having had eight and a half months to think about it, I realise she had become a bit more moody, which was totally out of character.’
Leah was last seen by her parents on the evening of February 14 after she told them she had been going to see a friend.
Leah was then seen again on CCTV the day after, heading to work in Milton Keynes, but has not been seen since.
Earlier this month police searched the Blue Lagoon lake in Milton Keynes, after a member of the public described spotting a grey hooded top in the water.
Leah was wearing a distinctive grey ‘Stewartby’ taekwondo hoodie with a colourful logo at the time she went missing.
Miss Croucher’s parents John and Claire Croucher held an emotional press conference in February appealing for information
There was been a widespread effort to find Leah involving a poster and social media campaign and a £5,000 reward for information and appeal on Crimewatch.
She was last seen in Furzton, Milton Keynes on February 15 just after 8.15am and was walking towards work.
Her parents today said from September 2018 the normally placid 19-year-old became ‘a little bit snappy’, slightly more argumentative and would go up to her room and sulk.
But her parents put it down to normal teenage behaviour.
Mrs Croucher continued: ‘Leah had never been like many other teenagers. She was happy to be at home reading her Twilight books about vampires.
‘She didn’t like nightclubs and I had to force her to go to the pub after her 18th birthday.
‘She finally went but came home saying it was too expensive and not much fun.’
Police have spoken to the man and say they have no suspicions about him because it is thought he has an alibi for the time that Leah vanished.
On Saturday February 3, twelve days before Leah disappeared, she announced she was going to book a hotel room and have a girlie night with two female friends, drinking alcohol and gossiping.
Mrs Croucher said: ‘To be honest, I didn’t think anything of it.
‘I was pleased she was getting out and it seemed quite a normal thing for young people to do. I know her brother has done the same when he goes for a night out.’
Earlier this month officers searched the Blue Lagoon lake in Milton Keynes in their investigation into her disappearance
Police have released this photograph of a grey hoodie similar to the one Leah was last seen wearing
Leah’s dad dropped her at the Jury’s Inn at Central Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire and waved goodbye as she walked off.
It was only much later, when her bank statement arrived some time after Leah’s disappearance, that the Crouchers realised their daughter had lied to them.
The mother continued: ‘Her statement showed she had booked a room at the cheaper hotel nearby – the Travelodge.
Timeline of missing Leah Croucher’s disappearance
Thursday February 14
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.
Friday February 15
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.
Sunday February 17
Police issue a press release saying Leah is missing
Tuesday February 19
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.
Wednesday September 25
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.
Wednesday October 9
Police launch a mayor search at the Blue Lagoon. Nothing of any significance is found.
‘We checked with her friends, of course, and they said they hadn’t been with her that night.
‘We believe she was with X, but did not want to tell us.’
CCTV of the Travelodge had been wiped out by the time the lie was discovered, so there is no record of the assignation.
Claire and John are asking anybody who was in that area on February 3 between 6.30pm and 8.30pm to rack their brains to see if they remember spotting Leah.
It is possible she and her companion went for a drink or food beforehand in one of the nearby pubs or restaurants.
Leah was thought to have wore her black coat, black jeans and black rucksack.
Looking back, Claire realises there have been other little clues that Leah was having an affair and had perhaps fallen head over heels in love for the first time.
There was the mysterious outing on Valentine’s night, the night before Leah vanished.
She left home between 6pm and 7.15pm, telling her mum she was seeing a friend.
But checks showed she never saw that friend and police, despite numerous appeals, have never established where she went or why she was with.
Claire said: ‘You’d think there would be evidence on her phone records of a secret relationship, but there is nothing.
‘But then we know she always used Snapchat, and chats are wiped out on that.. Or, of course, the man could have supplied her with another phone, a secret phone.’
Mrs Croucher admits she wavers desperately between two theories.
The first is that Leah ran away deliberately with someone she knew and has either chosen not to return or is being held against her will.
The second is that she was snatched off the street and is no longer alive.
‘I try not to think of the second one, but as time goes on it’s there… I get bad days where it won’t go away and I cry and cry,’ Mrs Croucher said.
‘I desperately want her to be alive but we are going through absolute hell.’
She tries to comfort herself with the fact that Leah was an expert at self-defence, and had studied at her dad’s martial arts club since she was a young child.
She continued: ‘How would anyone manage to take her against her will without anybody else seeing anything?
‘I’ve walked the route she took to work and it’s busy – you are visible to other people and passing cars all the way, particularly at that time in the morning when everyone is going to work or school.
‘So then I try to convince myself of the first theory – that she has run away – and I think why would my daughter choose to cause so much hurt to us, the people she loves.
‘It’s just not what Leah would do and it doesn’t make any sense at all.’
But then Mrs Croucher remembers Leah as a little girl, talking about her dreams for the future.
She said: ‘She’s always been crazy about vampire books and she used to say that all she wanted was to meet a ‘bad boy’ vampire and be with him.’
Leah knows her dad’s mobile number off by heart because it was very similar to her own. She added: ‘We live in hope that one day it will ring and it will be her.
‘No matter what she has done or who she is with, we will never stop loving her. There is nothing that we can’t work out, and we want her to know that.’
Anyone with any information can contact police on 101 quoting reference 43190049929 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
There is a £5,000 reward for information leading to Leah’s return.