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

In the middle of one of Europe’s best-known party islands, Yorkshire police officers are carrying out a delicate search of an olive grove which is, for the next few days at least, being treated as the potential burial site of a Sheffield toddler.

The coarse scrubland does not have livestock and cattle grazing on it as normal.

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.

Instead, this arid corner of Kos is the temporary home to a 19-strong team made up of South Yorkshire Police officers, forensic examiners and an archaeologist.

Dig begins on holiday isle for answers at last on missing toddler Ben Needham

The site - a five-minute drive east of the island’s historic harbour capital, a destination traditionally popular with teenage revellers - is set back slightly from the cooling waters of the Aegean Sea. The view is as beautiful as it is enticing for the black-clad police team working under a baking Mediterranean midday sun.

The land, one of several smallholdings in the Makris region, is accessed by a narrow track into the hills and beyond the sprawling luxury hotels on the seafront, where all-inclusive patrons sup on their refreshments.

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.

It is here in Makris where, on July 24 1991, Ben Needham was last seen. His grandfather was helping renovate a property in the area when the boy, who was on holiday with his mother Kerry, from Sheffield, vanished.

Police are “optimistic” new excavations at the site will hold the clues to Ben’s disappearance, after a local man claimed his late friend may have accidentally killed the 21-month-old - a secret he took to his grave last year.

On Monday, teams began scouring sections of the farmland and olive grove in the search for possible remains. They are expecting “many hundreds” of bones, the field having been used as agricultural land for centuries.

But they are also digging with the view that the remains of a little boy, buried for a quarter of a century, are among them.

Ben Needham.

Ben Needham.

Ben Needham: Timeline of agony

• July 24 1991: Ben Needham vanishes while playing near the grounds of a farmhouse in the Iraklis region of Kos, which his family are renovating. His mother, Kerry Needham, and grandparents raise the alarm with local police and conduct a full search of the area.

• July 26 1991: Eyewitness reports claim a boy matching Ben’s description was found at the local airport on the day he disappeared. That boy has never been traced.

• September 1991 The Needham family return to England due to illness but vow to continue the search.

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.

• June 2003 The Metropolitan Police issue 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.

• May 2011 The BBC airs a programme called Missing 2011, which includes a piece on Ben’s story and the campaign to find him.

• September 2011 Greek police on Kos officially re-open the case and grant the family a face-to-face meeting with the island’s prosecutor.

• October 2012 South Yorkshire Police in Kos begin digging up mounds around the property where Ben went missing to look for his remains.

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.

• December 2013 Ben’s mother accuses then-Prime Minister David Cameron of not giving her case the same backing as he gave the parents of Madeline McCann. It comes as a dossier is produced containing reports from eight witnesses, none of who know each other, who all saw a boy possibly matching Ben’s description with the same Greek family.

• December 2014 Lawyers representing Ben’s family say they may take legal action to try to force the Government to make a decision about funding a new police investigation.

• January 2015 The Home Office agrees to fund a team of British detectives to help search for the toddler.

• March/April 2015 Three generations of Ben Needham’s family travel to Greece to follow up a “strong” lead that a man living there believes he may be the missing Brit due to having no photographs of himself under the age of two and no knowledge of where he was born. The man is later ruled out.

• May 2015 Ben’s family make a fresh appeal on Greek television for information regarding the disappearance.

• May 2016 The Sun newspaper publishes a report that members of the police operation go on an “eight-hour booze-up” in Kos during the latest stage of the investigation.

• September 2016: Ben’s family are told to “prepare for the worst” by detectives leading the investigation, amid the belief the 21-month-old was crushed to death by a digger - the driver of which died in 2015. It comes as police arrive in Kos to begin excavation work in the belief the boy’s remains may be buried near the farmhouse