Murder detectives have spoken for the first time about new leads in the disappearance of missing Cheam schoolboy Lee Boxell 24 years ago.

Lee was last seen in Sutton High Street on September 10, 1988, sparking one of the UK’s most well-known missing person cases.

In dramatic developments in the three-decade search to find him, undercover officers have spent the past three months at St Dunstan’s Church in Cheam carefully excavating parts of the graveyard.

They believe the teenager’s body may have been buried there, or there may be clues there linked to his disappearance.

Officers have linked Lee, 15 at the time of his disappearance, to an unofficial youth club run at the church.

The Shed youth club was run by paedophile gravedigger William Lambert, who was convicted last year of raping and sexually assaulting young girls he groomed at the club while he worked at St Dunstan’s Church more than 20 years ago.

Although the police are yet to launch a murder investigation, the detective leading the investigation – John McQuade of the homicide and serious crime command – said there is no evidence Lee Boxell is still alive.

He said: “We retain a very open mind as to what happened to Lee, but there is no evidence Lee Boxell is alive anymore, under this name or any other.”

Det Insp McQuade said: “There appears to be evidence Lee used the youth club, which was at the back of the church known as the shed. We would like to speak to anyone who used to go to the shed and who may have seen Lee in the area.”

Lee’s parents have been informed of developments in the case.

A review of serious crime scene operations led police to re-examine the church as a possible crime scene.

The painstaking operation at the church has seen officers use the most up-to-date technology at their disposal to survey the graveyard.

Equipment from the Royal Engineers, including ground penetrating radar, has been used to look under the surface, as well as police pulling up parts of the cemetery.

Anyone with information on the case can call the Metropolitan Police’s homicide and serious crime command on 020 8721 4138 or 020 8721 4005.