Leah Croucher's family says hope she was alive has been 'brutally extinguished in the cruellest and harshest of ways'

The family of Leah Croucher have said their "faint glimmer of hope" of her being alive has been "brutally extinguished" after the teenager's remains were found in the loft of a house.

In a tribute to their "bright, funny young" daughter, the 19-year-old's family said they knew the "heartbreaking news" of her death would "come one day" but they are "devastated" to have been proven right.

"The deepest, darkest grief that we, Leah's family and friends are experiencing over the past weeks shows us that glimmer was actually, foolishly, a shining beacon of hope, which has now been brutally extinguished in the cruellest and harshest of ways," they said.

"It has been a long way to fall back to reality."

Leah's remains were found last week, more than three years after she went missing on her way to work at a finance company in Milton Keynes.

Items belonging to the teenager, who was a European Taekwondo champion, were also found in the same property in Loxbeare Drive, Furzton, a few minutes from her home.

Her family described feeling a "pain almost too big to bear" following her disappearance, but added: "There is little that compares to the deep chasm Leah's death has brought to us".

"Leah was a bright, funny young woman who was a kind, loyal, helpful and caring soul," their statement continued.

"Her smile lit up the room, and her laugh cheered all who heard it. Leah had a wonderful sense of humour, who found joy in everything she did."

'We will soon be able to lay Leah to rest'

They added that while their "lives are darker", they have taken "solace" in believing Leah "will only finally die when the last of us who remember her dies".

"We will soon be able to lay Leah to rest, as she deserves, and say our final goodbyes, be able to grieve at Leah's graveside and lay flowers for her," her family added.

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"We have missed Leah for so long already, and now have the rest of our lives to mourn her, as well as the memories we will never be able to make.

Writing to Leah directly, the family said: "We hope soon that we will be able to look at pictures of you again, but they are too painful to even think about at the moment."

"Give Haydon a big kiss and a big hug from us baby, we miss and love you both so much, but hope that you are together now, looking out for each other as always.

The tribute was referring to Haydon Croucher, Leah's brother, who died on 24 November 2019, nine months after she went missing.

Who is the prime suspect?

The prime suspect in Leah's murder investigation has been named by police as convicted sex offender Neil Maxwell, who was found dead on 20 April 2019 after he took his own life.

Police started searching the property on 10 October this year after receiving a tip-off from a member of the public.

Officers had visited the house on two earlier occasions but insisted this was the first time Leah's disappearance was linked to the address - despite conducting about 4,000 house-to-house calls.

It has since emerged Maxwell was the only person with keys to the house, which was unoccupied when police were conducting their inquiries.

He was wanted in connection with a sexual assault and used false names and changed his mobile phone and vehicles to avoid police.