Ben Needham: Reporter who covered case in 1991 hopes for end to family’s torment

Kerry and Ben Needham.
Kerry and Ben Needham.
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“I landed on the island of Kos with a planeload of holidaymakers ready to begin their fortnight in the sun.

It was the height of the school summer holidays and the popular Aegean island was packed with families enjoying the sun, sea and sand.

Kerry Needham in 1991

Kerry Needham in 1991

But while my flight companions headed off to their hotels, I was there to work.

I headed to Kos Town and started making enquiries about where I could find the Needham family.

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Ben Needham

Ben Needham

Ben Needham: Thwarted hopes from 25 years of potential sightings of missing toddler

Back in 1991 a journalist had little more to rely on than a notebook and pen. I was dropped into a foreign land with no mobile phone, no laptop or tablet, no internet and no email.

I had to rely on initiative and tenacity to get the story. After 25 years I can’t remember every detail of those few days on Kos, but some things are etched on my memory.

Meeting a young Kerry Needham and taking her picture outside the caravan the family were living in; talking to her broken-hearted dad Eddie at the police station while we waited for more information; sitting with Ben’s dad Simon Ward at the spot where he went missing.

Kerry Needham

Kerry Needham

These were ordinary Sheffield people who had moved to Greece for a better life in the sun, but instead had suddenly found themselves thrust into the media spotlight by a tragic event which was to change their lives forever.

The mystery surrounding a young boy disappearing from a holiday island packed with families made this a massive story and various theories soon started circulating.

Kerry and her parents, Eddie and Christine, seemed convinced Ben had been taken while out playing outside the house Eddie was helping to renovate. There was talk of gypsies having kidnapped the blond-haired toddler, or someone in a car having picked him up. Airports were put on alert and Interpol became involved. There was certainly no suggestion back then that he had been killed, either accidentally or deliberately.

The finger of suspicion was also pointed at the family, something which seems to be inevitable in cases like this, probably because no one ever wants to believe a young child could be snatched like that.

The Needhams were clearly a close family and supported each other. Eddie and Christine were visibly distressed when they spoke to me and appeared shell-shocked by what had happened.

Kerry, still in her teens, appeared strong at first but the strain eventually took its toll and the whole family moved back to Sheffield.

Ben’s dad Simon was 21 at the time and had not been in Kos when Ben vanished, but had returned to the island to help in the search.

I continued to meet and talk to Kerry and other members of the family when they returned to Sheffield and they remained convinced that Ben would be found. As a reporter it was my duty to take a professional approach to what had happened but looking back now as a mum I wonder how the Needhams managed to cope then, and in the ensuing years.

They have suffered the heartache of losing a child but have also had to endure years of not knowing what happened to him, the many false leads building up hope only for it to be crushed again.

There was no social media in 1991, no Facebook or Twitter hungry for every detail of the story. These were the days before free wifi at hotels and restaurants and there were people on Kos who didn’t know anything about Ben’s disappearance.

Without any internet I had to file my story from a phone at the hotel after scribbling it down in my notebook.

A national newspaper reporter with a hire car had given me a lift to see the Needhams, but then abandoned me there as she raced back to try to get her story out before me.

Luckily the BBC Athens correspondent was more generous and offered me a ride back to town on his motorbike.

I’ve still got the yellowing papers with their black-and-white photos containing those first stories about Ben in 1991, and over the years I have followed the news of possible sightings and new leads in the case.

For the family’s sake I hope this new development, heartbreakingly sad and tragic though it is, may at last bring their torment to an end so they can finally lay his memory to rest.

Whatever happens, the name Ben Needham will never be forgotten by me and countless others who have read his name in news reports over the past 25 years.”