Fabric found as police dig on holiday isle for missing toddler Ben Needham

Police searching for missing Sheffield toddler Ben Needham on the holiday island of Kos have found information of “slight interest” - including fabric - following an initial excavation of a site close to where he was last seen.

A 19-strong team of South Yorkshire Police officers, forensic specialists and an archaeologist have been scouring an arid stretch of farmland where 21-month-old Ben was playing a quarter of a century ago.

Detective Inspector Jon Cousins at the scene in Kos, Greece, as officers from South Yorkshire police start excavations in relation to the missing toddler Ben Needham.

Detective Inspector Jon Cousins at the scene in Kos, Greece, as officers from South Yorkshire police start excavations in relation to the missing toddler Ben Needham.

Digger teams were brought in on Monday afternoon to break up the clay-like ground.

In the shadow of a party capital, will the land finally give up its secrets on Ben Needham?

It was the first day of a fresh excavation at the site following new evidence that the Sheffield toddler may have been killed and buried there, yards from where he vanished while his grandfather was renovating a property.

Detective Inspector Jon Cousins, from South Yorkshire Police, said the team - joined by local search and rescue volunteers - had made good progress in recovering potential evidence.

Officers from South Yorkshire police start excavations in relation to the missing toddler Ben Needham.

Officers from South Yorkshire police start excavations in relation to the missing toddler Ben Needham.

He said: “We found, as expected, a vast number of bones yesterday. Each one was examined immediately, and each one was discounted there and then as being an animal bone.

“There are some other items that are of slight interest - the odd piece of fabric. That is being analysed and looked at, but there is slight interest.

“Everything is being carefully looked at.”

He added: “We want to make sure: do they or do they not relate to any of the items Ben was wearing on that day?”

Ben Needham.

Ben Needham.

The toddler was wearing a white and green shirt and a pair of leather sandals on the day he went missing, July 24 1991.

The items have been forensically collected and photographs sent to colleagues back in the UK before a decision is made on whether they require further examination and testing.

Mr Cousins, the senior investigating officer, said: “We got ahead of time which meant we got digging a little bit earlier than I expected.

“So far it is going better than to plan, which I’m pleased about.”

Searches of the site, around two miles (3.2km) east of the Greek island’s historic town centre, are expected to last for at least a week.

Greek national Pete Dedes, a Northumbria Police inspector on secondment to help with the operation, said the search for clues was “painstaking” but necessary.

Speaking from the scene, he said: “There are a lot of people helping us out from the volunteer services - the Greek search and rescue.

“It is painstaking work, we are going down to fragments as small as 1cm that we’re looking at so it takes time.

“It’s laborious, it’s not exciting by any sense of the word, but it has to be done, it has to be done methodically, and it has to be analysed to the very last grain of sand, basically.”

Konstantinos Barkas, also known as Dino, was clearing land with an excavator close to where Ben was playing on the day he vanished and may be responsible for his death, a friend of the builder reportedly told police following a TV appeal in May.

The driver reportedly died of stomach cancer last year, months before detectives from South Yorkshire Police arrived on the island for a renewed investigation.

Mr Cousins said: “Based on what we found out in 2012 when a search was done nearby, we will be finding many hundreds of bones, each of which will have to be carefully looked at.

“Work will continue tirelessly once work has been assessed.”

Forensic teams could be seen walking slowly in banks of around eight as the site - which continues to be farmed by a local family - was sectioned off into grids.

Investigators have already told Ben’s mother Kerry Needham to “prepare for the worst” ahead of excavation work beginning on the island.

Mr Cousins said he had had a “private” chat with Ms Needham, who is not in Kos.

He said: “I personally spoke to Kerry this morning and explained what I would be doing today.

“I had a private conversation with her around how she was feeling, and also explained the emotion that all of the team are feeling at this time.

“It is an event which quite clearly is not something to be excited about, given the circumstances, but we are optimistic about the work we are going to be doing.”

He also said police had been reminded about their conduct after newspaper reports earlier this year which identified members of the investigation team in Kos on an alleged “eight-hour” drinking session.

Mr Cousins said: “Clearly each member of the team and everybody working with us has the right to a private life.

“I’ve briefed everybody. They understand there is a job to do.

“We will abide by the codes of conduct not only expected of the senior leadership group of South Yorkshire Police, but UK police as a whole. We will always be seen to be acting professionally and with integrity.

“We’re here for the reasons of finding what happened to Ben. That’s mine and the team’s main objective.”

Asked whether that meant police would be seen out drinking in Kos, Mr Cousins said: “Everybody’s been briefed as to what’s expected of the behaviour throughout this time they are going to be here and they are fully aware of what they need to be doing.”

It came as Ben’s mother said the notion her son was dead never entered her “worst nightmares” until a mystery tip-off to police this year.

Ms Needham, from Sheffield, told the Daily Mirror: “Not even in my worst nightmares has Ben ever been dead ... until now. I’ve been waking up and finding my pillow wet with tears.

“This witness told police we deserve the truth - but we deserved the truth 25 years ago. I feel like he’s only come forward because Dino is now dead.

“How can you hold on to such a secret as serious as that and for all those years?”

She added she was “angry” when police told her about the tip-off and she now lives in fear that each day will bring the “worst news possible”.

A variety of theories on his fate and reported sightings have arisen since his disappearance and Ms Needham had been holding out hope that she would one day be reunited with her son.

Mr Barkas’s widow Varvara strongly dismissed any suggestions her late husband had killed Ben in an accident.

South Yorkshire Police has confirmed that its team, led by Detective Superintendent Matt Fenwick, will begin searching a specific site on Kos, starting on Monday. But it warned progress could be painstaking, with the first dig expected to last up to 12 days.

Detectives are said to have carried out initial inquiries at the site, with experts testing soil and surveying the area with drones.