£700,000 to be invested to find missing Sheffield toddler Ben Needham

Searches on the island of Kos back in 2012 for the missing toddler.

The Home Office has agreed to fund a team of British detectives to help search for toddler Ben Needham who went missing in Greece more than 20 years ago.

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


Over the years there have been a number of possible sightings and a range of theories about what happened to the youngster, 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.


"South Yorkshire Police has provided support to the Greek authorities wherever requested in assisting with the investigation.


"We hope that by continuing to work with them, we can assist in providing the answers Ben's family so desperately want.


"We will now take time to establish the right investigation team, with a view to the inquiry commencing in April."

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.


"They have worked hard in facilitating the Greek authorities' investigation into Ben's disappearance but there is still more work to do. This will be made easier with this additional funding, which will allow further lines of inquiry to be explored.


"Along with the chief constable, I remain committed to finding Ben. I'm pleased that the Home Office saw fit to support us in this commitment and have agreed to provide additional funding which will allow South Yorkshire Police to further their investigations into the disappearance of Ben."


The funding is for the financial year from April 2015 and is for up to £700,000.


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."


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."

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