THE mum of a Sheffield toddler who went missing in Greece 20 years ago this week is calling for a fresh investigation after a new lead emerged which could hold the key to his disappearance.
Ben Needham vanished suddenly at 21 months old while on the Greek island of Kos in 1991 - and despite dozens of possible sightings, no trace of the missing child has ever been found.
But following a new appeal broadcast on Greek television, a retired doctor has come forward to reveal that a boy fitting Ben’s description visited his hospital months after he disappeared.
The doctor told the programme the blue-eyed, blond-haired boy was accompanied by a Gipsy lady, and told him in an English accent: “My name is Ben.”
Ben’s mum Kerry Grist, from Ecclesfield, who has always believed her son is alive, told The Star last night she was ‘frustrated’ Greek police didn’t act on the doctor’s sighting when he reported it to them at the time.
She added: “We’re hopeful everything will be done to trace these people and find out if that little boy was Ben.”
Kerry said Ben’s appeal was aired on Greek TV channel Alter two weeks ago, and said the doctor had seen the little boy in a town called Larissa, in Northern Greece.
“It’s not a tourist area, and not somewhere that you go on holiday,” she said.
“A little boy with blond hair and blue eyes came into his surgery. He asked for the little boy’s name and he said in English: ‘My name is Ben’.
“He saw the little boy twice, the second time he saw the boy a gypsy lady came and took him away.”
Kerry said the woman was a patient of the doctor, who knew she was unable to have children.
“The doctor reported this to the police in Larissa in February or March 1992, and nothing was done about it,” she said.
“He said after a while of speaking to the police he gave up, and then when the new programme went out out a few weeks ago, he thought he would try again to get the information out there again.”
The appeal was aired on a show called The Light At The End Of The Tunnel - a hugely popular Greek programme about finding missing people. Half of the three-hour episode was dedicated to Ben.
The retired medic called the child he had seen a “tourist child”, and said it was very unusual to see a blonde, English-speaking child in Larissa.
Ben disappeared minutes after going out to play at a farmhouse, which his grandfather was renovating in the village of Iraklise. Kerry was working as a waitress on Kos at the time.
Investigators have long suspected the child was abducted by a gypsy gang and sold to a childless couple.
Kerry said Ben’s family are now “hopeful” that a new police investigation can be launched.
“Obviously we are hopeful a police inquiry can be made to try and trace this woman and young man, as he will be now if he was the same age as Ben.
“I believe he’s alive anyway, I’ve never thought any different, so I don’t need fresh hope.
“I think this will bring about a new investigation. The British police should get behind it, and the Foreign Office should press for an urgent inquiry to be made into this and find these people.”
In May this year Kerry said she hoped the Prime Minister, David Cameron, would help in the search for her son after he pledged a review into the disapperance of Madeleine McCann, who disappeared in similar circumstances in Portugal in 2007.
But despite writing to Mr Cameron, she still hasn’t received a personal reply.
“I understand he’s a very busy man but you have to try and remain positive. Myself and my family are trying to remain calm about the situation,” Kerry said.
The doctor has reported his findings again to Greek police in Athens, where he now lives. The information has been passed to Interpol.