Disappearance of Ben Needham

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Ben Needham (born 29 October 1989 in Sheffield) is a British child who disappeared on 24 July 1991 on the Greek island of Kos.[1] At the time of his disappearance he was aged 21 months. After initial searches failed to locate him, he was believed to have been kidnapped.[2] Despite numerous claims of sightings, his whereabouts remain unknown.[3]

In October 2012, South Yorkshire Police began to follow a line of inquiry which suggested that Ben had been accidentally killed and buried in a mound of rubble by an excavator driver working in a field adjoining the house where he was last seen.[4] Extensive excavation of the rubble was undertaken by British and Greek police. One item of particular interest to the police was a Dinky toy car, which they hoped to recover and believed could be "key to discovering his fate." The search failed to detect any human remains or items belonging to Ben.[5]

In September 2016, the police returned to Kos to carry out further excavations. Although no remains were found, a yellow Dinky car, believed to have been Ben's, was recovered.[6] Detective Inspector Jon Cousins, heading the inquiry, said: "It is my professional belief that Ben Needham died as a result of an accident near to the farmhouse in Iraklis where he was last seen playing. The recovery of this item, and its location, further adds to my belief that material was removed from the farmhouse on or shortly after the day that Ben disappeared."[7]

Disappearance[edit]

Ben Needham was staying with his family on the island of Kos,[8] where his maternal grandparents had a home in the village of Iraklis, near Kos town. 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 of a farmhouse the family were renovating when, at approximately 2:30 pm, the adults realised he had disappeared.[9]

Search efforts[edit]

The family first searched the area for Ben, assuming he had wandered off, or that the boy's teenage uncle, Stephen, had taken him out on his moped. When no trace of the boy was found, the police were notified. They initially questioned the Needhams, viewing them as suspects, which delayed notification of airports and docks.[10] Over the following 11 days, searches of the area were carried out by Hellenic Police, Hellenic Army and fire brigade personnel.[2] Nikolaos Dakouras, the island's chief of police, said: "We now believe we have searched every possible part of that area, and the boy is not there. It leaves us with a great mystery. We have no theories. We have no solutions."[11] Following a request from UK Prime Minister John Major, the Hellenic Army undertook further searches of the island in January 1993.[12]

Alleged sightings[edit]

There have been more than 300 reported sightings of boys matching Ben's description, both on the Greek mainland and on Greek islands. Most were reported shortly after his disappearance during 1991 to 1992. In December 1995, Stratos Bakirtzis, a private investigator, found a blond boy, aged around six years old, living with a gypsy family in a camp located in Salonika, Greece. Bakirtzis told Greek TV network ANT1 that the child said he had been "given to the gypsies because because his parents did not want him."[13] Police from Veria took the boy into custody and determined he was not Ben Needham. Ioannis Panousis, Veria's chief of police, said the child's birth certificate was authentic and that the child's natural father was currently serving a prison sentence and had left him in the care of the gypsy couple.[14]

In November 1998, John Cookson saw a blonde 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, and the Greek boy's family also provided infant photographs to prove he was their child.[16][17]

In October 2003, Ian Crosby made a visit to Kos with Ben's uncle Danny, followed by further visits to meet police from Greece.[18] 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 blonde boy who resembles the age progression photo of what Ben might look like aged 13.[19]

The Needham family believed that Ben was kidnapped with the intention of selling him for adoption, or that he was taken by child traffickers.[20][21] Carol Sarler, writing in The Times in 2007, said: "I have repeatedly asked police and press, British and Greek, for a single example to support this rumour. There is none. When pretty little Western European kiddies go missing... we know about it; if we don't know, it isn't happening. Those of us who properly investigated Ben's disappearance are certain he was not [abducted]; put bluntly, a child less than 2, toddling unsupervised for five hours on a baking, remote, inhospitable hillside that is still largely unsearched, is easy prey to the lonely accident."[20]

Age progression images[edit]

In September 1992, South Yorkshire police used electronic facial identification technique (E-FIT) software to produce an image of how Ben might appear at age 3. The picture was reproduced on posters which were displayed at airports around the Greek islands. It was thought to be the first time that E-FIT had been used to age a person's appearance.[22] Age progression images were created and distributed again in March 2000, June 2003, October 2007 and September 2016.[23][24][25][26]

Police forensic excavations[edit]

October 2012[edit]

In October 2012, police from the United Kingdom travelled to Greece to search an area that they believed might contain Ben Needham's remains. On 19 October, Greek police, assisted by a team of specialist search advisors from South Yorkshire Police, began an operation to examine the grounds of the property from which Ben disappeared.[27]

The operation, involving geophysical survey equipment, forensic archaeologists and human remains detection (HRD) dogs, was triggered by a police line of inquiry into whether Ben had been accidentally buried as a result of an excavator driver dumping building rubble nearby.[4][28] The operation did not detect any trace of the child.[5]

September 2016[edit]

In September 2016, police informed Kerry Needham that they had learned that a man from Kos had said that Konstantinos Barkas, a digger operator, now deceased, had told him that Ben had died in an accident, and that Barkas had hidden the body in building waste.[29] On 16 September police began a search for remains, in a different area from the one searched nearly four years earlier. Excavations were focused around a tree, apparently planted since Ben vanished. A replica of the sandals he had been wearing was being made, to see if they matched any found items.[30]

The excavation work ended on 16 October. More than 800 tonnes of soil had been dug up, with any items of interest sent back to the UK for forensic analysis.[31] DI Cousins said that one item which was found "close to an item dated to 1991" had been identified by the Needham family as being in Ben's possession at the time he went missing. Cousins said: "My team and I know that machinery, including a large digger, was used to clear an area of land on 24 July 1991, behind the farmhouse that was being renovated by the Needhams. It is my professional belief that Ben Needham died as a result of an accident near to the farmhouse in Iraklis where he was last seen playing. The recovery of this item, and its location, further adds to my belief that material was removed from the farmhouse on or shortly after the day that Ben disappeared."[7]

In the media[edit]

The disappearance of Ben Needham has been the subject of several television documentaries:

  • "The Lost Boy" – part of the Cutting Edge series, first broadcast in the UK by Channel Four on 10 March 1997.[32]
  • "Ben Needham: Somebody Knows" – part of the Real Crime series, first broadcast in the UK by ITV on 20 June 2001.[33]
  • "Ben Needham and Katrice Lee" (S01E01) – part of the Missing Children: Lorraine Kelly Investigates series, first broadcast in the UK by Sky Real Lives on 12 August 2009.[34]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Ben Needham". Missing Kids. 9 October 2012. Retrieved 19 October 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Clancy, Ray (30 July 1991). "British toddler feared kidnapped". The Times. London. Retrieved 17 October 2016 – via InfoTrac. (Subscription required (help)). 
  3. ^ 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)
  4. ^ a b Carter, Helen (18 October 2012). "Ben Needham: police to excavate land on Kos where toddler went missing". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 19 October 2012. 
  5. ^ a b 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. 
  6. ^ "'Ben Needham's toy car' found in Kos searches". BBC News. 18 October 2016. Retrieved 18 October 2016. 
  7. ^ a b "Ben Needham 'died in accident'". BBC News. 17 October 2016. Retrieved 17 October 2016. 
  8. ^ "Mother relives fear 16 years on". BBC News. 8 May 2007. Retrieved 1 May 2010. 
  9. ^ "Ben Needham: Grandfather joins Kos search". BBC News. 20 October 2012. Retrieved 18 October 2016. 
  10. ^ "Renewed hunt for lost boy after 12 years". Western Mail. Cardiff. 9 October 2003. Retrieved 5 November 2012.  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required)
  11. ^ Dalrymple, James (4 August 1991). "Kos dream turns to nightmare for lost Ben's family". The Sunday Times. London. Retrieved 17 October 2016 – via InfoTrac. (Subscription required (help)). 
  12. ^ "Major urges search". The Guardian. London. 13 January 1993. p. 2. Retrieved 17 October 2016 – via InfoTrac. (Subscription required (help)). 
  13. ^ "'Ben' found with gypsies". The Independent. London. 14 December 1995. Retrieved 18 October 2016. 
  14. ^ Kyriakidou, Dina (14 December 1995). "Hopes of finding 'baby Ben' fail as boy identified". The Irish Times. Retrieved 18 October 2016 – via HighBeam Research. (Subscription required (help)). 
  15. ^ "Hair clue for lost boy's family". BBC News. 12 November 1998. Retrieved 18 October 2016. 
  16. ^ "Boy is not Ben, say Greek parents". BBC News. 13 November 1998. Retrieved 18 October 2016. 
  17. ^ "Greek police say boy is not Ben". BBC News. 13 November 1998. Retrieved 18 October 2016. 
  18. ^ "Private eye renews search for Ben". BBC News. 7 October 2003. Retrieved 18 October 2016. 
  19. ^ Midgley, Carol (24 June 2003). "I want to tell Ben: I'm your mum". The Times. London. p. 4. 
  20. ^ a b Sarler, Carol (16 May 2007). "A racket in Portugal: the spread of the urban myth". The Times. London. p. 17. Retrieved 17 October 2016 – via InfoTrac. (Subscription required (help)). 
  21. ^ Sarler, Carol (30 September 2007). "This limbo that lasts a lifetime". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2 October 2007. 
  22. ^ Tendler, Stewart (11 September 1992). "Computer ages face of boy lost on holiday". The Times. London. Retrieved 17 October 2016 – via InfoTrac. (Subscription required (help)). 
  23. ^ Lee, Adrian (15 March 2000). "Website will age faces of missing children". The Times. London. p. 3. Retrieved 17 October 2016 – via InfoTrac. (Subscription required (help)). 
  24. ^ "Police release 'picture' of missing toddler Ben Needham as an 18-year-old". Daily Mail. London. 10 October 2007. Retrieved 17 October 2016. 
  25. ^ "Greek police to reopen hunt for long lost Ben". Daily Express. London. 5 April 2009. Retrieved 17 October 2016. 
  26. ^ Lamb, Christina (18 September 2016). "A 'deathbed confession' and whispers swirl around missing Ben". The Sunday Times. London. p. 7. 
  27. ^ "South Yorkshire Police statement on developments in the Ben Needham case". South Yorkshire Police. 18 October 2012. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 19 October 2012. 
  28. ^ "New lead in search for Ben". Daily Record. Glasgow. 16 August 2012. Retrieved 19 October 2012.  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required)
  29. ^ Thornton, Lucy (15 September 2016). "Ben Needham investigation breakthrough as cops probe witness claims missing tot was killed". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 16 September 2016. 
  30. ^ "Ben Needham: Kos search team focuses on 'newly planted tree'". bbc.co.uk. 28 September 2016. Retrieved 16 October 2016 – via www.bbc.co.uk. 
  31. ^ "Ben Needham disappearance: Police excavation work ends on Kos". bbc.co.uk. 16 October 2016. Retrieved 16 October 2016 – via www.bbc.co.uk. 
  32. ^ McFadyean, Melanie (2 March 1997). "Little boy lost". The Observer. London. p. 3. Retrieved 17 October 2016 – via InfoTrac. (Subscription required (help)). 
  33. ^ Hanley, Lynsey (16 June 2001). "Must see TV". Daily Mirror. London. p. 3. Retrieved 17 October 2016 – via InfoTrac. (Subscription required (help)). 
  34. ^ Crow, Alan (11 August 2009). "My anguish over the children who simply disappear, by Lorraine Kelly". Daily Mail. London. p. 25. Retrieved 17 October 2016 – via InfoTrac. (Subscription required (help)).