Disappearance of Ben Needham

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Ben Needham (born 29 October 1989 in Sheffield) disappeared on 24 July 1991 at the age of 21 months from the Greek island of Kos.[1] Despite numerous reported sightings over the years, no trace of the British child has ever been found.[2] It is one of the longest missing persons cases in British history.[2]

Disappearance[edit]

Ben Needham had been holidaying with his parents on Kos[3] (to which his maternal grandparents had emigrated) in the village of Iraklise when he went missing on 24 July 1991.

On the day of his disappearance Ben had been left in the care of his grandparents while his mother went to work at a local hotel. Ben had been coming in and out into the house when he was playing outside a farmhouse the family were renovating when, and at approximately 2:30 pm, the adults realised he had disappeared.[4]

The family first searched the area for Ben, assuming he had wandered off, or that their teenage son, Stephen, had taken him out on his moped. When no trace of the boy was found, the police were notified. However, the police extensively questioned the Needhams, holding them as prime suspects, and delayed informing airports and docks.[5] Eventually they widened their search for the child.

Police investigations[edit]

Use of age-progression imaging techniques[edit]

In 2003, shortly before the twelfth anniversary of Ben's disappearance, Private Investigator Ian Crosby contacted the Metropolitan Police Facial Imaging Team and suggested they could consider creating an updated photograph of Ben.[6] They did and used age progression techniques to alter a toddler photograph of Ben to how it would look when he was thirteen years old.[7] Another age-updated photograph was constructed in 2007.[8][9]

Accidental burial theory[edit]

In October 2012 police from the UK travelled to Greece to search an area that they believed might contain Needham's remains. On 19 October Greek police, assisted by a team of specialist search advisers from South Yorkshire Police, began an operation to examine the grounds of the property from which Ben disappeared.[10] The operation, involving geophysical survey equipment, forensic archaeologists and Human Remains Detection (HRD) dogs, was triggered by a police line of inquiry that Ben had been accidentally buried by an excavator driver dumping building rubble nearby.[11][12] The operation failed to detect any trace of the child.[13]

Alleged sightings[edit]

There have been more than 300 sightings of boys matching Ben's description reported, both on the Greek mainland and on Greek islands. Most were called in shortly after his disappearance during the period of 1991 to 1992. There were also a number of instances where it looked as if the mystery had been solved. In late 1995, private investigator Stratos Bakirtzis found a blond boy, aged around six years old, living with a Gypsy family in a camp located in Salonika, Greece. The child claimed he had been given to the Gypsies after being abandoned by his biological parents and his adoptive mother claimed to have bought the boy from another Gypsy. However, there was no evidence found to suggest this was Ben.[14]

In 1998, British holidaymaker John Cookson saw a blond boy of about ten playing on a beach in Rhodes. Cookson said that the child was known as 'the blond one' by his friends and was the only fair-haired child in the group of dark-haired Greek children. Suspicious, he took photographs of the children and used the pretext of tousling the boy's head to acquire a hair sample for DNA analysis.[15] However, DNA testing proved the boy was not Ben,[16] and the Greek boy's family also provided infant photographs to prove he was their child.[17][18]

In 2003, private investigator Ian Crosby made a visit to Kos with Ben's uncle Danny,[19] followed by further visits to meet Greek police. Crosby has also investigated a photograph, sent to him by a holidaymaker who visited Turkey in 1999, which depicts a number of Turkish village children, including a blond boy who resembles the age-progression photo of what Ben might look like aged thirteen.[20] Crosby said, "I get many hundreds of reports every year from people on holiday who think they have seen Ben. It is impossible to investigate many of these claims. It is very sad to realise how little is actually done to find missing children like Ben and Madeleine McCann. Many British people who I have discussed Ben's case with are amazed when I tell them that no British police officer has ever travelled to Kos or Greece in connection with Ben's case. I even offered to pay for police officers to go, my offer was turned down. Sadly it remains therefore highly unlikely that the majority of children in these types of cases will ever be found."

The Needham family believe that Ben was kidnapped with the intention of selling him for adoption, or he was taken by child traffickers. However, there is no evidence and some consider an accident more likely.[21][22]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Ben Needham". Missing Kids. 9 October 2012. Retrieved 19 October 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Collins, David (8 October 2011). "Greek cops' new probe into missing Ben 20 years on". Daily Record (Glasgow). Retrieved 19 October 2012.  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required)
  3. ^ "Mother relives fear 16 years on". BBC News. 8 May 2007. Retrieved 1 May 2010. 
  4. ^ BBC News, Ben Needham: Grandfather joins Kos search, November 5, 2012
  5. ^ "Renewed hunt for lost boy after 12 years". Western Mail (Cardiff). 9 October 2003. Retrieved 5 November 2012.  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required)
  6. ^ Missing Ben 'may be in Scandinavia' clues The Star, 29 October 2003
  7. ^ "Is this the face of Ben Needham, aged 13?". Daily Mail. 13 June 2003. 
  8. ^ Police release 'picture' of missing toddler Ben Needham as an 18-year-old Daily Mail, 10 October 2007
  9. ^ Greek police to reopen hunt for long lost Ben Daily Express, 5 April 2009
  10. ^ "South Yorkshire Police statement on developments in the Ben Needham case". South Yorkshire Police. 18 October 2012. Retrieved 19 October 2012. 
  11. ^ Carter, Helen (18 October 2012). "Ben Needham: police to excavate land on Kos where toddler went missing". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 19 October 2012. 
  12. ^ "New lead in search for Ben". Daily Record (Glasgow). 16 August 2012. Retrieved 19 October 2012.  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required)
  13. ^ Adams, Sam (27 October 2012). "Diggers draw a blank in hunt for Ben Needham as police team finish operation on Greek island of Kos". Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 6 November 2012. 
  14. ^ "'Ben' found with gypsies". The Independent. 14 December 1995. 
  15. ^ "Hair clue for lost boy's family". BBC News. 12 November 1998. 
  16. ^ Ben Needham mum's torment The Sun, 5 May 2007
  17. ^ Boy is not Ben, say Greek parents BBC News, 13 November 1998
  18. ^ Greek police say boy is not Ben BBC News, 13 November 1998
  19. ^ Private eye renews search for Ben BBC News, 7 October 2003
  20. ^ I want to tell Ben: I'm your Mum The Times, 24 June 2003
  21. ^ Sarler, Carol (16 May 2007). "A racket in Portugal: the spread of the urban myth". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 16 May 2007. (subscription required)
  22. ^ Sarler, Carol (30 September 2007). "This limbo that lasts a lifetime". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 October 2007.