Detectives investigating the disappearance of Sheffield's Ben Needham have told his family to 'prepare for the worst', his mum claims.
British investigators on the Greek island where the 21-month-old vanished 25 years ago believe he may have been crushed to death by a digger, Kerry Needham said.
Ben's mum said forensics teams are set to begin excavating at two sites close to where the toddler was last seen as he played near his grandparents' home on Kos in July 1991.
She said the decision to search the sites was made after a friend of digger driver Konstantinos Barkas came forward and said he believes the workman may have been responsible for the death.
The driver, who died of stomach cancer last year, had been helping to clear land for a local builder near the property Ben's grandfather was renovating.
Kerry, who has always believed her son is still alive, said detectives from South Yorkshire Police called at her house to inform her of the latest development.
She said the search of the two sites, where Mr Barkas dumped material from the building site he was clearing, will begin within weeks.
"What they had to tell me was the last thing they would have ever wanted to. They think my Ben could be dead and buried," she told the Daily Mirror.
"They are no longer looking for a missing person. How do I cope with that? My mother's instinct has always told me he was alive. What if I've been wrong all this time?
“This feels different now. I’m petrified. I think the police believe they will find Ben’s bones. I think he’s dead.
“They will be bringing specialist people from the UK to search for his remains. They don’t believe Ben’s alive any more.”
Ms Needham said she fears dying of 'shock and heartbreak' should Ben's remains be found.
She said: "I have spent all these years desperately hoping for that fairytale ending and for Ben to walk through that door.
"Now the horrible reality is Ben could be dead and he could have been dead all these years."