The mother of Ben Needham said ‘her stomach churned’ when she realised her family’s German connection, amid fears that a boy found a river in Bavaria is her son.
British police last week said they are investigating whether a body found in the River Danube is Ben Needham, who went missing more than 30 years ago on the Greek island of Kos.
Ben’s heartbroken mother Kerry has been searching for her son, who was just 21 months old, ever since he vanished while playing at his grandparents’ farmhouse in July 1991.
She alerted officers to a fresh appeal by Interpol, accompanied by a facial reconstruction, to identify the body of a young child found by a canoeist in the River Danube in May last year, which had been weighed down with a flagstone slab and wrapped in foil.
‘This child has obviously been disposed of in the most horrific way,’ Kerry told the Mirror. ‘I thought the reconstructed face had similarities to Ben but there’s a lot of little boys who resemble Ben. But even my parents say the picture looks familiar. They have similar eye shapes where one of the eyes slants down a little bit. And then on Thursday night my stomach churned when I realised: “Oh my god we had a German connection years ago!”.’
Ben’s heartbroken mother Kerry has been searching for her son, who was just 21 months old, ever since he vanished while playing at his grandparents’ farmhouse in July 1991
Ben Needham went missing more than 30 years ago on the Greek island of Kos
Kerry said a prisoner once told them that Ben was in Germany.
Her parents, Christine and Eddie Needham, who are aged 70 and 74, were appearing on the Greek version of Surprise, Surprise, which sees families reunited, in 1996.
Prisoner Andonis Bedzios phoned into say: ‘I have Ben in my hands.’ It was five years after Ben had disappeared.
Mr Bedzios told them he was phoning from inside Larissa Prison and that he had once escaped from jail and had seen Ben with a family of travellers in Veria, Greece.
He said they had been taking care of his own son while he was in prison for selling fraudulent lorry parts.
He claimed that Ben was now living in Germany with one of his relatives.
British Consul to Athens, Gordon Bernard, became involved when there was a promised handover of the missing boy, which he personally attended, but no one showed up.
Mr Bernard told the Mirror in 2015 that he believed Ben had been trafficked.
Interpol released a reconstruction of the boy found in the the River Danube near Grossmehring in Bavaria on May 19, 2022
South Yorkshire Police Officers excavating and searching for Ben’s remains
Recalling the claims of Mr Bedzios, Mr Bernard, who is now aged 81, told the newspaper: ‘It was all very fraught at the time. We drove to Larissa after the prisoner said he would arrange for Ben to be handed over. There was real hope.
‘Me and the embassy driver sat in a café and the driver got phone calls about where Ben was going to be and was directed from place to place. He was never at any spot that they said. Whether they got spooked or thought the police were there I just don’t know.
‘I remember thinking to myself, “suppose he does turn up, what am I going to do?” I thought I’d just grab him, put him in the car and get back to the embassy – but it didn’t happen. I felt really upset, most of all for the family.’
Mr Bernard, who retired to Sussex 22 years ago, added: ‘It is the one regret of my career is that I could not do anything to help the Needham family find Ben.’
When a picture showing how Ben would look aged 31 was released on July 23, 2021 Ms Needham revealed that she did not believe the police theory that he was killed by a digger.
Ms Needham said ‘we must keep searching’ ahead of the 30th anniversary of his disappearance on July 24, 1991.
Police believe Ben died on the day he went missing as a result of an accident involving ‘heavy machinery’ as he played outside his grandparent’s house, but his mother believes her son is still alive.
South Yorkshire Police twice sent a team to Kos. The second police visit followed a witness coming forward to say that, before his death, digger driver Konstantinos ‘Dino’ Barkas confessed to killing Ben.
Police formally ended a search on the Greek island in October 2016, saying they believe Ben died as a result of an accident involving a digger on July 24, 1991
Appearing on Good Morning Britain, Ms Needham wiped away tears as she spoke about trying to stay strong during the police search in 2016
Police digs on land at the farmhouse failed to uncover remains and tests on a toy car and scrap of leather sandal did not find a DNA match with Ben.
Detectives from South Yorkshire Police carried out a three-week search of Kos in 2016.
Speaking at the time, then-Detective Inspector Jon Cousins said: ‘My team and I know that machinery, including a large digger, was used to clear an area of land on 24 July 1991, behind the farmhouse that was being renovated by the Needhams.
‘It is my professional belief that Ben Needham died as a result of an accident near to the farmhouse in Iraklis where he was last seen playing.
‘The events leading up to and following that incident have been explored by my team of experts to great lengths. The fact that we have not had a direct result during this visit to Kos does not preclude the facts that we know to be true.’
The Interpol appeal has seen the international police organisation flooded with leads.
After South Yorkshire Police confirmed they are investigating whether the body found in the River Danube is Ben Needham, Kerry said: ‘I’m pleased they are looking into it. Every possibility has to be investigated and ruled out. Our hope is that one day one piece of information will come forward which will uncover the truth.’
Interpol published a graphic reconstruction of the boy’s head. The blue-eyed boy staring out of the photo is described as between five and six years old.
The description went on: ‘The boy is thought to be aged between five and six. He was approximately 110 cm (43.3 in) tall and 15 kg (2.36 st), with brown hair and blood type 0.’
The investigators added: ‘The results of investigations indicate that he likely spent time outside of Germany.’
Ben’s mother Kerry holding up a clipping of the tragic story in 1991
Police digs on land at the farmhouse failed to uncover remains and tests on a toy car and scrap of leather sandal did not find a DNA match with Ben
Interpol DNA Database Manager Francois-Xavier Laurent told local media on September 5: ‘We have received 33 hints from the public.’
Laurent added: ‘We can now assume that this boy was probably not German.’
In the Interpol Black Notice, the organisation said it was ‘seeking the public’s help in identifying a deceased boy and to determine the suspicious circumstances surrounding his death’.
Interpol Secretary General Juergen Stock said: ‘Through this Black Notice, Interpol is calling upon the global law enforcement community to cross-check databases and consult open or unsolved cases.’
He added: ‘Someone, somewhere knows something about this boy, making it equally important to release certain details publicly.
‘Whether he was the victim of trafficking, abduction or violence, we are committed to mobilising all of Interpol’s policing capabilities to identify him and help investigators shed light on his death.’
He went on: ‘Members of the public, particularly those who remember a missing child whose characteristics and disappearance indicate a potential link to this case, are invited to contact the national police team in Germany should they have any information.’
Kerry had urged South Yorkshire Police to contact Interpol over her son.
She said: ‘I am hoping our British police will check this out and contact the German officers about this. We need to rule it out. I’ve always said all along that I don’t believe he’s died.’