Sheffield & South Yorkshire

Ben Needham's mother 'would tear up island' in search

Kerry Needham and her mum Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Kerry Needham has dedicated her life to searching for her missing son

The mother of missing toddler Ben Needham has said she would "tear up the whole island" of Kos as a police search ended without finding his body.

For 25 years Kerry Needham believed she would find her son alive and one day be reunited with him.

But that last flicker of hope seems to have vanished as police confirmed their belief he was killed accidentally by a digger when he went missing in 1991.

Mrs Needham told The Mirror: "I can't say goodbye until I know where he is."

From the moment he disappeared on the Greek holiday island, 43-year-old Mrs Needham maintained Ben was alive and had probably been abducted.

'Out there somewhere'

Speaking at the time of his disappearance, she said: "I've just got to keep that hope for Ben's sake, because we love him too much. I won't give up."

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The search for her son took over Mrs Needham's life as she repeatedly appealed for help.

"He's got to be found. He didn't disappear off the face of the earth - he is out there somewhere," she said.

Image caption Kerry Needham says she can't say goodbye until she knows where her son is

But last month, police told her to "prepare for the worst" and revealed that a friend of a digger driver, who was clearing land with an excavator on the day the toddler went missing, said the man may have been responsible for Ben's death.

In the years before the latest investigations, Mrs Needham said that "not even in my worst nightmares" did she believe Ben would be found dead near the same spot where he had vanished more than a quarter of a century ago.

It had certainly not entered her mind that her little boy may have been crushed to death by a digger.

"It's a long time to wait thinking you're going to find your son and then suddenly your world comes crashing down," said Ellie Martin, who co-runs the Help Find Ben Needham campaign group.

"For 25 years all she's thought about when she woke up in the morning is to find Ben."

The 21-month-old toddler, from Sheffield, was last seen playing outside a farmhouse in Iraklis - which his grandfather Ed was refurbishing - on the afternoon of 24 July 1991.

He was being looked after by his grandparents while his mother was out working.

When his grandmother realised she hadn't heard his voice as he played they began looking for him. Initially it was thought his uncle Stephen had taken him for a ride on his motorbike but it later transpired this was not the case and the family contacted the Greek police.

Image copyright SYP
Image caption Police have released images over the years of how Ben might look if he were found

Ben's disappearance sparked one of the biggest and longest-running search operations ever seen in Europe.

This arid corner of Kos became the centre of a huge inquiry and international media attention.

In the weeks and months that followed, the family's anguish deepened as they travelled back and forth between the UK and Kos while Greek and British police followed various leads.

DNA tests

Hundreds of sightings of Ben were claimed with none of them amounting to anything but more pain for the family.

Pictures of what Ben may have looked like aged 12-14 years old were issued by police in 2003 and another computer-generated image was released in 2010 to illustrate how he may appear at 21.

DNA tests were carried out on two men who it was thought may have been Ben, but both were negative.

In December 2013, Mrs Needham accused then-Prime Minister David Cameron of not giving her case the same backing as he gave to the parents of Madeleine McCann, who went missing in 2007.

It came after a reports from eight witnesses who all saw a boy possibly matching Ben's description with the same Greek family.

Earlier this year, a South Yorkshire Police team returned to Kos to carry out house-to-house visits and chase new leads. They were given the tip that Ben may have been accidentally crushed by a digger while he was out playing.

The police officer in charge of the latest operation, Det Insp Jon Cousins, told a press conference: "My team and I know that machinery, including a large digger, was used to clear an area of land on 24 July 1991, behind the farmhouse that was being renovated by the Needhams.

"It is my professional belief that Ben Needham died as a result of an accident near to the farmhouse in Iraklis where he was last seen playing."

He revealed that an item found on Saturday, that it is thought Ben had with him when he went missing, had been shown to the Needham family.

"The recovery of this item, and its location, further adds to my belief that material was removed from the farmhouse on or shortly after the day that Ben disappeared," Det Insp Cousins said.

While there are still myriad unanswered questions for the Needham family, the latest find in that hot dry corner of Kos may mean they can finally begin to mourn for their lost son.


Timeline

  • 24 July 1991: Ben Needham vanishes after travelling to the Greek island of Kos with his mother and grandparents, who were renovating a farmhouse in the village of Iraklis.
  • September 1991: Ben's family returns to England due to illness, but Ben's mother Kerry Needham continues to campaign for her son to be found.
  • June 2003: The Metropolitan Police issues an image of what Ben might look like at age 12 - 14 years old.
  • 2004: An anonymous businessman offers a reward of £500,000 for information leading to Ben's safe return.
  • October 2010: Another public appeal is made by Ben's mother in the run-up to what would be his 21st birthday.
  • February 2011: Then-Prime Minister David Cameron responds to Mrs Needham, offering to support South Yorkshire Police and to press the Greek authorities.
  • May 2011: BBC airs a programme called "Missing 2011" which includes a segment on Ben.
  • September 2011: Greek police on Kos re-open Ben's case.
  • October 2012: A police operation focusing on a mound of earth and rubble close to where Ben was last seen finds no trace of him.
  • October 2013: Police say a DNA test carried out on a man in Cyprus proves he is not Ben Needham.
  • March/April 2015: Another DNA test on another man in Greece proves negative.
  • January 2015: South Yorkshire Police gets £700,000 from the Home Office to continue the investigation.
  • March 2016: The force secures a further £450,000 in funding.
  • May 2016: A team of 10 South Yorkshire Police officers visits Kos to carry out house-to-house visits.
  • September 2016: Police say two locations on the island will be excavated, as Ben may have been killed by a digger there while out playing.
  • October 2016: Police investigation on Kos ends.

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