YP Comment: Dignity and courage of Kerry Needham's search for the truth

AFTER 25 years of crushing false hope and agonising uncertainty, Kerry Needham has at last discovered what happened to her son Ben.

Kerry Needham.

Fresh searches on Kos have unearthed an item that was in the toddler’s possession when he disappeared.

It supports new evidence that Ben was killed by one of the diggers operating on the site, his death being hurriedly covered up.

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The discovery brings a heartbreaking resolution to the riddle of what happened to the 21-month-old from Sheffield, a tragic conclusion to the tireless search for the truth on the part of the Needham family.

It is hard to imagine spending a quarter of a century trapped in the tortuous limbo of not knowing whether your child was alive or dead. Yet this has been Kerry’s fate.

She had been convinced that her son was snatched, then sold for illegal adoption. The idea that he had been loved and cared for all this time offered a morsel of comfort she could cling on to. Kerry wouldn’t allow herself to think anything different. But then what parent would?

She certainly couldn’t bring herself to contemplate the alternative – that the last 25 years of her life had been spent on a search that wouldn’t deliver her darling boy back into her arms.

The fact that she has displayed such dignity and courage in her ceaseless bid to discover what happened that blisteringly hot day in 1991 is deserving of the utmost respect.

It is shameful, however, how little help was afforded to her for so long. An earlier dig on Kos four years ago was the first time the British Government had committed money to the search for Ben, a stark contrast to the sums committed to the Madeleine McCann case.

Unable to afford to pay for publicists and private detectives, Kerry’s family have just had each other and a lot of determination. Yorkshire’s hearts go out to them at this time of such deep sorrow.

Modern slavery: the epidemic that hides in plain sight

YORKSHIRE is rightly proud of the fact that one of its sons was instrumental in bringing about the abolition of slavery. Yet Hull’s William Wilberforce would be just as horrified by the plight of those at the mercy of the modern day slave trade.

The question is, would he be as blind to its true scale as the rest of society appears to be? A Hull University study released to mark Anti-Slavery Day shows less than one in 10 people comprehend how widespread slavery is in this country, while more than half admit to not being aware of the most common signs.

It is a deeply troubling truth that modern slavery is hidden in plain sight, with too many businesses failing to meet the requirement for transparency on their supply chains laid out in the Modern Slavery Act.

Identifying it as “the great human rights issue of our time”, Theresa May has vowed that her Government will ensure Britain leads the way in defeating it.

Part of the problem is the sheer scale of the practice. Far from being confined to forced prostitution, vulnerable people who believed they were heading for legitimate jobs are enduring inhuman conditions in everything from fields and factories to nail bars and car washes.

Adequate funding and a more consistent approach by police and criminal justice agencies is essential.

One step that should also be considered by Government and local authorities is to grant approved status – similar to the Fairtrade system – to vetted firms which legitimately employ foreign workers so that people know they aren’t being exploited.

The UK should remain a place of refuge and sanctuary for those who want to work, not somewhere that leaves them ripe for exploitation.

Our grand Dame

FEW people have left such a lasting legacy on their home town as the indomitable Dame Fanny Waterman. The Leeds International Piano Competition, which she created in 1961, has become one of the world’s most renowned classical music contests, putting Leeds firmly on the map and launching the careers of some of our greatest pianists.

The fact she has been honoured with a Lifetime Achievement by the Women of the Year Awards is a fitting tribute to a woman who, at the age of 96, is the living embodiment of hard work, dedication and pursuit of excellence.

Dame Fanny, who last year stepped down after more than half a century at the helm, said her only regret was that her beloved husband Geoffrey was not alive to see her receive the award. He, like the rest of us, would be enormously proud.