|A picture of Ben Needham from the official Facebook campaign page.|
BY PATRICK SAWER AND NICOLA HARLEY, THE TELEGRAPH GROUP LIMITED, LONDON 2015
London: Hopes of a breakthrough in the case of missing British toddler Ben Needham rose yesterday (Saturday) after detectives investigating his disappearance received potentially significant new information, including a possible photograph of him.
The potential new leads came after Ben’s family, from Sheffield, appeared on Greek television to make a renewed appeal on his whereabouts, 23 years after he went missing on the island of Kos. As a result of the appeal, more than 30 people contacted police, including one who supplied a photograph thought to show an individual who could be Ben. Police believe there are approximately seven potentially new and “interesting lines of inquiry”, which will now be investigated further by South Yorkshire detectives, working with their Greek counterparts. Ben’s mother, Kerry, who has always insisted that he could still be alive, said she was heartened by the result of her appeal. She said yesterday: “The Greek TV show last night had a massive impact on Ben’s investigation, and new information was given to South Yorkshire Police on the show and also to Operation Ben headquarters in the UK. This information will now be investigated by British detectives.”
She added: “A photograph was sent to the show which I have seen, but I believe stronger information should take priority.” It had been reported that a man came forward to say he believed he is Ben, but the individual had previously been discounted from the investigation after a DNA comparison. Another man who recently came forward has also been ruled out.
Needham said: “I want to make it clear that the information about someone who called the show claiming to be Ben is old information and has already been dealt with.” South Yorkshire police said they are determined to pursue any new information in order to solve the mystery of the toddler’s disappearance. Det Supt Matthew Fenwick, who is leading the inquiry, said: “Ben would be a 25-year-old adult now, so it’s important that we appeal to him too. We will ask anyone out there if they’ve ever had doubts about where they come from; if they look completely different to their family or perhaps there are no photographs of them as a baby.
“We will ask anyone with these doubts to come forward — we have a sample of Ben’s DNA, so we can easily determine whether someone is indeed Ben.” Ben was 21 months old when he went missing on July 24, 1991, after travelling to Kos with his mother and grandparents, who were renovating a farmhouse in the village of Iraklise. Over the years there have been a number of possible sightings and a range of theories about what happened. Speaking on the programme, Needham said: “Please end the pain that my family is suffering. I know he’s out there somewhere. Please call the police and please put an end to this.”
Needham also spoke about the young men who have come forward during the investigation only to be ruled out. “It is shocking — and every time I meet someone that we think is Ben, and we’ve had a DNA test and it’s not Ben, it’s heartbreaking. And sometimes, it’s very difficult to recover from that,” she said.
Needham had said earlier: “I know that no one can guarantee they will uncover what happened to my son, but knowing that the police are trying to find answers has lifted my strength and hope immensely.
“It means everything to me and I know that South Yorkshire Police are working with the Greek police and will do their best for us.
“My family and I will not rest until we uncover what happened to Ben, and I believe that someone out there knows what happened to him — I would urge them to please get in touch with police.”
Ben’s sister, Leighanna, 22, said: “I have been involved in Ben’s investigation since I was born. Even though I didn’t meet him, the pain is still there. I feel my mum’s pain and my family’s pain.”
She added: “To see photographs of the brother I have never met is horrible.”
Det Supt Fenwick added: “The lives of Ben Needham’s family were ripped apart when he disappeared more than 20 years ago and their determination to find him has not diminished. It is likely that someone out there knows what happened to him.”
In January, South Yorkshire Police were granted pounds 700,000 (Dh4 million) of Home Office funding to support the Greek authorities in continuing inquiries to find Ben. The force had asked for the financial help to follow up information, which the family believes has never been properly investigated. The Home Office backed a South Yorkshire Police operation in 2012 when land was excavated on Kos, near the farmhouse from where Ben went missing. No trace of him was found. Last year, a DNA test on a young man featured in video footage shot in Cyprus proved negative.
We can hope and pray that one of these leads will reveal what happened to the boy. If his story can be found out, then there is hope for Madeleine McCann's story being revealed.