Disappearance of Ben Needham
The disappearance of Ben Needham (born 29 October 1989 in Sheffield) occurred on 24 July 1991 when the 21-month-old British child went missing on the Greek island of Kos. Despite numerous reported sightings over the years, no trace of him has ever been found. It is one of the longest missing persons cases in British history.
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. He was playing outside a farmhouse the family were renovating when, at approximately two thirty in the afternoon, the adults realised he had disappeared.
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. Eventually they widened their search for the child.
Use of age-progression imaging techniques
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. 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. Another age-updated photograph was constructed in 2007.
Accidental burial theory
In October 2012 police from the UK travelled to Greece in order to search an area that they believe 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. 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. The operation failed to detect any trace of the child.
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, to be 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. But there was no evidence found to suggest this was Ben.
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 mix of dark-haired Greek children. Suspicious, he took photographs of the children and pretended to tousle the boy's head to acquire a hair sample for DNA analysis. 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.
In 2003, private investigator Ian Crosby made a visit to Kos with Ben's uncle Danny, and further visits to meet with Greece 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. 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 being sold for adoption or taken by child traffickers. However, there is no evidence and some consider an accident more likely.
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- Sarler, Carol (16 May 2007). "A racket in Portugal: the spread of the urban myth". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 2007-05-16.(subscription required)
- Sarler, Carol (30 September 2007). "This limbo that lasts a lifetime". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 October 2007.