Ben Needham investigation: TV appeal generates new leads

Ben Needham
Ben Needham
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Police are scouring a wealth of potential new leads in the case of Ben Needham, the Sheffield toddler who vanished 24 years ago while on holiday in Greece.

South Yorkshire Police said “a number of calls” were received after an appeal on Greek television last night.

Kerry Needham

Kerry Needham

Detectives are now poring over the new details, including potential sightings of missing Ben, “and will be looked at in detail”.

Ben vanished on July 24 1991 after travelling to the island of Kos with his mother Kerry Needham and his grandparents.

Over the years there have been a number of possible sightings and a range of theories about what happened to the youngster, who would now be 25.

Mrs Needham and Ben’s grandmother Christine Needham took part in the three-hour TV show on Friday along with his sister Leighanna.

Speaking on the show last night, Ben’s mother 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.”

The show, the English translation of which is Light At The End Of The Tunnel, broadcasts to around 50 per cent of the Greek TV audience and is about missing people, a police spokesman said.

In January, South Yorkshire Police were granted £700,000 of Home Office funding to support the Greek authorities in continuing inquiries to find Ben.

The force asked for the financial help to follow up information 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.

Mrs Needham posted on her fundraising site: “As part of the launch of operation Ben I have arrived in Athens this morning with my family and detectives from South Yorkshire Police.

“During our five days here we will be meeting the British ambassador for the first time in 23 years to discuss Ben’s case.

“Myself and family along with British detectives will be appearing on the Greek missing programme Nikolouli as well as holding a press conference with all Greek media as well as any British media who would like to attend.

“We sincerely hope this will lead to more people coming forward with new information and will help the British and Greek police investigate into the whereabouts of Ben. Once again we would like to thank you all for your continued support.”

It emerged last week that independent charity Crimestoppers is also offering a reward of up to £10,000 to anyone who supplies information which leads to the discovery of Ben.

Detective Superintendent 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.

“The lives of Ben Needham’s family were ripped apart when he disappeared more than twenty years ago and their determination to find him has not diminished. They are more desperate than ever to find answers about what happened to him.

“It is likely that someone out there knows what happened to him and we will be appealing to anyone with information to come forward and tell us what they know.

“The force is working closely with the Greek authorities to ensure a number of existing lines of enquiry are explored.

“We are also hoping that the offer of a Crimestoppers reward of up to £10,000 could be an incentive for someone to finally come forward after all these years – it is not too late to tell us what happened and finally allow us to unearth the truth.”

Roger Critchell, Director of Operations for Crimestoppers, added: “Ben’s family live in hope that one day he will be reunited with them, and through offering this significant reward, we hope someone will come forward and tell us where he is.

“We will never ask for any of your details, and importantly, you’ll never have to give a statement to police or go to court. So please, do the right thing, call 0800 555 111 and tell us where Ben is so his family can make up for the time they’ve lost with him.”

Human rights barrister Ian Brownhill, who is representing the Needham family and wrote to the Home Secretary urging her to fund a new investigation last year, described the reward as “fantastic news”.

He said: “This is the year where momentum is building, firstly with the money for the investigation. There are leads in Greece and this money might well be the thing that pushes someone into opening their months and providing witness statements or intelligence that builds on the leads police already have. There is no doubt that money is a motivator.

“We know that British diplomats, private investigators, Greek police and investigators have always had leads. There are people in Greece who know the answer to this mystery and it is about getting someone to break their silence. £10,000 in this era of austerity might well be the thing that does it.”

Anyone with information should contact the Operation Ben team on 01142963025 or email them at opben.needham@southyorks.pnn.police.uk.

Last month, Ben’s family revealed that they went out to mainland Greece to meet a man they hoped was Ben, but were left disappointed when DNA tests proved it wasn’t him.

Ben’s grandmother Christine revealed how her family had their hopes raised that they had tracked Ben down after being sent anonymous photos of a young man with very similar features to them.

She went with Ben’s mother Kerry and sister Leighanna to meet him on mainland Greece and spent several nights with him last month.

But after having DNA and blood tests carried out on the man, who has not been named, they were left heartbroken when no match was found.