The disappearance of British youngster Ben Needham is steeped in infamy, with a media frenzy and mass search failing to result in his reappearance.
His disappearance led to trauma for his family, and despite numerous leads in recent years coming to the fore, Ben’s whereabouts remain unknown.
This article takes a look at this case. There is a reader’s poll at the end of the article, which we hope you partake in. We will all be able to see what the consensus is among our readers as to what happened.
The disappearance of Ben Needham took place in 1991 on the island of Kos Greece. At this time, he was just 21 months old.
Ben had been in Greece at the time with his mother Kerry, who was just 17. She had gone to Greece to be with her parents after splitting up with Ben’s father, Simon Ward.
Ben’s grandparents – Eddie and Kristine – lived on the island at the time. The Needham family were from Sheffield, Yorkshire, United Kingdom.
On 24th July 1991, Ben’s mother Kerry left for work, with the grandparents of Ben looking after him. They were renovating their farmhouse at the time.
Throughout the day, Ben freely entered and left the house, but remained nearby at all times. But at 2:30pm, the grandparents realised he had gone missing.
Originally, there was little reason for alarm. The grandparents presumed that Ben had probably walked off into the near distance, or had been taken out by his Uncle.
After looking around for him, there was no sign of him. Tragically, Ben was never seen again by family members.
The Police were notified, but in a decision that would later be derided, they made the potentially fatal error of not notifying airports or docks of a missing child.
Initially, the Police focused their attention on the Needham’s – believing that the grandparents may have been involved. But this theory didn’t last for long.
As the hours went past, concern grew further. But it seemed that the local authorities were ill-prepared for such an event.
A manhunt did eventually ensue, with personnel from the Greek Army assisting. The Fire Brigade and even local volunteers were among others to search.
A thorough search of the local area around the farmhouse took place, though there was no sign of Ben anywhere.
After a few days, the chief of Police in the area remarked that the search had encompassed “every possible part” of the nearby area. Therefore, the search was scaled down within a few weeks.
The Police believed that Ben had been kidnapped, and attempted to raise awareness of Ben’s appearance across Greece. Despite strong awareness, Ben was never found.
However, there were dozens of reported sightings of Ben by members of the public both on the Greek mainland on islands. The majority were reported in the first few months.
These sightings were looked into by the Police, though they failed to result in any positive developments. Investigators and Ben’s family were left exasperated, with no idea of Ben’s whereabouts.
The search was restarted in January 1993 at the behest of the then-British Prime Minister John Major. But as more weeks passed, there was still no sign of little Ben.
As mentioned, there were many sightings – with many coming in the years following his disappearance. One of the most promising sightings came in 1995, when a private investigator named Stratos Bakirtzis found a boy matching Ben’s description with a Romani family.
The boy, who didn’t seem to be of Romani origin, was taken into custody by the Police. But following tests, the child was found to not be Ben. Other sightings turned out to be dead leads.
E-fit software was used to try and produce images of how Ben would look as he grew up. These were regularly distributed, in an effort to keep interest alive and ensure the search remained going.
As the years went by, the consensus has moved away from the idea that Ben was kidnapped, and moved towards the belief that Ben was involved in a tragic accident.
One of the main reasons for this was the revelation in 2016 that a man from Kos informed the Police that a man named Konstantinos Barkas had made a deathbed confession to him that he was responsible for Ben’s death.
Barkas was a digger operator, and told the man that he had accidentally killed Ben in an accident on the day of his disappearance, before hiding his body in building waste. This re-energised the Police, who believed this was accurate.
British authorities have made several trips to Greece to conduct searches on land that they have had reason to believe would contain Ben’s remains.
One such search in September 2016 that involved digging hundreds of tonnes of soil, found a small toy car that Ben’s family confirmed had belonged to him. But Ben’s remains were never found, meaning that many still conclude that Ben was kidnapped.
Other fragments that have been uncovered by the searches are undergoing DNA tests to see if anything else could be linked to Ben. More searches and excavations in the future are possible.
For Ben’s family, their lives have been irreparably damaged. Ben’s mother Kerry has spoken of having attempted to take her life on numerous occasions. To have gone through such a trauma at such a young age is truly harrowing.
However, Kerry has never once blamed her parents for their actions. Understandably though, the grandparents of Ben have spoken of blaming themselves for Ben’s disappearance.
There are two major schools of thought – that either Ben died on the day due to an accident, or he didn’t. If he didn’t, then there are a range of beliefs within this overarching theory.
We now analyse each of the theories:
Theory One: Ben Needham was killed in an accident
As time has went by, more and more people have started to move towards the theory that Ben was killed in a tragic accident. His body then may have been mixed with rubble and dirt and ultimately moved elsewhere – hence why the body has never been located.
It is known that the farmhouse where Ben was staying was being renovated on the day of Ben’s disappearance. This involved heavy machinery and diggers. This would tie up with Barkas’s confession.
If Barkas was telling the truth, it would seemingly confirm this theory. It could also be questioned as to why Barkas would lie about such a thing.
However, if Ben was killed in an accident, then is it really feasible that his body has never been found? This is especially the case given all of the earth that has been dug up in the search of Ben.
Theory Two: Ben Needham was abducted by someone
Another popular theory is that Ben was kidnapped by someone. Given that Ben was freely wandering around, there would have seemingly been ample opportunity to kidnap him.
Indeed, Ben’s mother has stated that she believes Ben was the victim of child trafficking. It is also known that authorities were slow to respond, which would have given a kidnapper plenty of time to get Ben out of the country.
There have been hundreds of sightings of Ben – which would support this theory. It would also explain why a body has never been found, as he could have been taken anywhere.
If this theory is correct, then there is a chance Ben is still out there, alive. But unfortunately, the likelihood is that the kidnapper would have killed Ben.
Theory Three: Ben Needham fell to his death and hasn’t been found
With Ben freely walking around the area, there is a chance he may have wandered off and accidentally fell to his death from a big height.
This is a feasible answer, but it’s only true supporting evidence is that it would go along with how his body has never been located.
However, given how thoroughly the area around the farmhouse was searched, it is nearly improbable to think that he would have never been found by anyone. But still, this remains a possibility.
Theory Four: Family involvement
A rather controversial theory is that there was somehow some form of family involvement in Ben’s death. Could Ben’s grandparents have been involved in some way?
The fact that Ben disappeared while under their care seems to point to some sort of negligence – could Ben have been the victim of an event or action by his grandparents?
It does seem far-fetched, and it is clear that there was significant love between Ben and his family, including his grandparents. They were clearly devastated by Ben’s disappearance.
But there is always that element of doubt, especially as family involvement is actually quite common in cases of missing people.
With the above theories in mind, we now invite you to cast your vote on the theory that you believe is most likely in the poll below.
For Ben’s heartbroken family, the supposed confession by Barkas has left them with even more questions than before. But as long as Ben’s remains are not found, there is always the chance he remains alive.
This tragic case may one day be solved, with efforts continuing. Hopefully then, Ben’s family will have the closure that they desperately need.