UK

Ben Needham: Home Office Funds £700k Investigation Into Toddler Who Disappeared In Greece In 1991

07/01/2015 11:24 GMT | Updated 07/01/2015 11:59 GMT

The search for a British toddler who went missing in Greece more than 20 years ago is set to reopen.

The Home Office has agreed to fund a team of British detectives to the tune of £700,000 to find out what happened to Ben Needham.

Ben, from Sheffield, vanished on July 24 1991 after travelling to the Greek island of Kos with his mother and grandparents.

ben needham

Ben Needham disappeared from the Greek island of Kos in 1991

Over the years there have been a number of possible sightings and a range of theories about what happened to the little boy, who would now be 25.

South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Alan Billings today said his force had secured special funding from the Home Office to allow British detectives to "continue to support the Greek authorities in the search for Ben Needham".

Ben's family have said they want South Yorkshire Police to investigate leads, including a file they have handed in that lists eight separate sightings from unconnected people of a boy who could potentially be Ben with the same Greek family.

The Home Office backed a South Yorkshire Police operation in 2012 when land was excavated on Kos, near the farmhouse from where Ben went missing. No trace of the little boy was found.

Detective Superintendent Matt Fenwick, who led the 2012 investigation, said: "Ben was a very young child when he went missing.

"His family has endured untold pain and anguish in the years that followed and have never given up in trying to find him.”

Last year, South Yorkshire Police asked the Home Office for Special Grant Funding to follow up information the family - led by Ben's mother Kerry, 42, and sister Leighanna, 20 - believe has never been properly investigated.

Ben's family engaged a human rights barrister Ian Brownhill who spotted their plight on their campaigning Twitter feed and offered his services for free.

Some commentators have contrasted Ben's family's position with the extensive Metropolitan Police resources devoted to investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in Portugal in 2007.

Dr Billings said he had received a letter from the Home Office confirming the special funding.

He said: "Ben's mum, Kerry, has spent more than 23 years searching for her son. I fully support South Yorkshire Police in their ongoing pursuit of the facts.”

A Home Office spokesman said: "This Government remains committed in its support for the search for Ben Needham.

"We can confirm we have offered to provide up to £700,000 in 2015/16 towards South Yorkshire Police's investigation. This is pending a formal assessment by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary."

Ben's family's official campaign said on Twitter: "Thank you to all of you for your support in our Search for Ben and our funding release from the Home Office."

Mr Brownhill tweeted: "Really happy to have helped #helpfindben in some small way. The Home Secretary now having confirmed funding for investigations in Greece."

Mrs Needham told ITV Calendar News: "It's been a long time coming. I was starting to get to the point where I didn't think it was going to be authorised.

"So, it's been long and frustrating.

"But when I got the phonecall this morning to go and meet Superintendent Fenwick this afternoon it lifted us quite a lot."

Ben Needham

She said: "Every single resource that the McCann inquiry has needed, it's been given without any hesitation. That's what makes us angry."

Mrs Needham said: "I believe that one way or another they will find out what happened to him or they will find him at the end of it.

"I don't think now that this investigation is going to come to a standstill. I think it will continue and continue until we get an end result."