Police Appeal For Help 25 Years On

15 February 2013, 11:50 | Updated: 15 February 2013, 11:53

Met police say a teenager who disappeared 25 years ago in south west London may have been killed because he tried to stop a paedophile abusing a child.

Lee Boxell, who vanished at the age of 15, spent time at a popular teenage hang-out in Cheam, known as "the shed", that it later emerged was a target for sexual predators.

He was last seen in the high street in Sutton in September 1988, and detectives originally assumed he had gone to watch a football match at Selhurst Park.

But investigators are now working on the theory that he died after intervening to try to stop sexual abuse.

Detective inspector John McQuade said: "Lee used to go to the shed and there is a theory that he may have seen something that may have led to him losing his life.

"There's no indication that he was a victim of any paedophile activity or sexual offences against himself.

"Although shy and a bit socially inept he was a strong little character. If he had seen it, he would have stood up to them. I think he was a victim of circumstance that afternoon."

Mr McQuade said it was not until last year that police discovered that Lee used to spend time at the shed, an outbuilding at St Dunstan's Church.

He said: "The shed attracted may be not vulnerable teenagers but bored teenagers. This was an era without mobile phones or social networking sites, so people would be drawn to a physical location to spend time with their friends.

"Once you get a group of youngsters in that kind of environment they are going to be vulnerable. Some of them were as young as 12 or 13."

It is now known that a number of paedophiles were operating in the area at the time.

One, William Lambert, was convicted of abusing four girls and jailed for 11 years in 2011, but police are not linking his case to Lee's disappearance.

The original investigation focused on the theory that Lee had gone to Selhurst Park because he had asked a number of friends to go with him, but they had refused.

However he had never been to the ground before and was in Sutton high street at 2.20pm, which would not have left enough time for him to get there for kick-off.

Mr McQuade began reviewing the case in 2011 and realised that it should have been treated as a murder investigation from the beginning.

"The position back then was that young men go out and meet with their friends and don't bother phoning home," he said.

"We missed a big trick there, we missed 48 hours of vital time. I don't think it would have saved Lee's life, I think he died that day, but while the search parameters were very wide, they were just misplaced."

Detectives have never found any trace of Lee or any indication that he is alive, such as using a bank.

They have used radar to look for any disturbance in the graves surrounding the shed and will continue the process in April.

Mr McQuade added: "If the theory is right that Lee witnessed something going on and was assaulted, the offender or offenders would have wanted to dispose of his body quickly, and what better place to do it than in a graveyard?

"Loyalties change. People who spent time at the shed might be parents now, and we appeal to their consciences. If they know something about this come forward and give Lee's body back to his family."

When he disappeared, Lee was 5ft 6in, slim with light brown hair and was wearing black jeans, a white Flintstones T-shirt and brown suede shoes.