The mother of Ben Needham says the police investigation into his 1991 disappearance has “lifted my strength and hope immensely” just weeks after her hopes of being reunited with her missing son were dashed.
Ben, from Sheffield, went missing from the Greek island of Kos at the age of two in 1991 and despite an investigation by the Greek authorities it is not known what happened to him.
His family revealed yesterday 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.
In a statement released today, Ben’s mother Kerry, said: “Despite the heartbreaking disappointment in Greece last month, where a DNA test proved a man we thought could be Ben was in fact someone else, my family and I remain hopeful for the future.”
Mrs Needham said she visited South Yorkshire Police this week to meet the Sheffield-based officers who will be working on the investigation into her son’s disappearance, dubbed Operation Ben.
It was announced in January that the Home Office had made an extra £700,000 in funding available to the force to send a team of detectives to Kos to follow up new leads.
Mrs Needham said: “I met each member of the team and listened to them speak passionately about what their roles are and witnessed first hand their commitment and dedication to finding the answers we so desperately want.
“I can’t describe how, as Ben’s mum, this made me feel. The investigation became real to me on Monday and I was completely overwhelmed by the time and effort the team is putting in.
“They have now laid the foundations for the investigation to move forward and will work closely with the Greek authorities to explore a number of lines of enquiry which still exist to find my son.”
Ben, whose 25th birthday was last October, had been holidaying with his mother Kerry and his father Simon in the village of Iraklise on the island of Kos when he went missing on 24 July 1991.
Mrs Needham said: “I know that no-one can guarantee they will uncover what happened to Ben, 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 to do their best for us.
“Messages of hope and support continue to flood in from members of the public more than 23 years since my son disappeared, which is a constant source of comfort and I am so thankful for their kind words.
“And the British media has also been a huge source of support over the years – without their help I don’t believe South Yorkshire Police would have received the Home Office funding to progress the inquiry.
“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 get in touch with police.”
Anyone who has information relevant to the investigation can contact the inquiry team on 01142963025 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yesterday 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.
Christine Needham told The Yorkshire Post: “Kerry just got some photographs sent of someone who looked really like our family. We had a DNA test, which was negative. We have been back about two weeks since coming back from Greece.
“It was very traumatic, it was someone who looked very much like our family, but unfortunately it was not him.
“We have been just reeling from the shock of it mostly for the last two weeks because we thought it was him. It was another big disappointment.
“We doubled checked and had a blood test done. There was a lot pointing to the fact that it could be him. It was not just the look, there was other personal information about his background.
“It was five weeks ago when we went out and we stayed for three weeks. It was worth doing because there were photographs send to us by an anonymous person who had seen this young lad. We had to check it out ourselves.
“We spent quite a bit of time with him. We spent a few evenings together. It was very hard but it was not him. We can’t make someone be Ben, no matter how hard it is.”
It was announced in January that the Home Office had made an extra £700,000 in funding available to South Yorkshire Police to send a team of detectives to Kos to follow up new leads.
Mrs Needham said: “Even though South Yorkshire Police have got the funding to do the investigation for us, we are not just going to sit and wait for things to happen.
“If we had waited months for that to come back to us, we would still be waiting, so we wanted to do it ourselves.
“It was very sad and quite destructive to all of us but we are moving forward now because the police have got the funds to go to Greece.”
South Yorkshire Police said in a statement: “South Yorkshire Police has been supporting the Greek authorities in exhausting previous lines of enquiry relating to the disappearance of Ben Needham before the force’s investigation begun this month.
“As part of those enquiries, a DNA test was carried out in March on a man in Greece who believed he could have been Ben. The DNA test confirmed the man was not Ben Needham.
“The inquiry goes on and the force will continue to support both Ben Needham’s family and the Greek authorities in progressing the investigation and establishing what happened to Ben.”