Family of Ben Needham to sue Home Office for funding of police operation
Disappearance of child on Greek island in 1991 remains unsolved but family want British police to pursue suspects
15 December 2014Kerry Grist, formerly Needham, holds a photograph of her son, Ben, who disappeared at the age of 21 months.
Photograph: Gary Calton
Ben Needham’s family is preparing to take the home secretary to court in an attempt to secure funding for British police to pursue suspects who might be linked to the toddler’s disappearance 23 years ago.
South Yorkshire police requested Home Office funding 10 months ago to enable them to travel to Greece to follow up leads in the investigation, which is one of the longest running missing person’s cases in British history.
But the force has heard nothing positive in response to its request.
Lawyers for the Needham family are preparing to go to the high court to force the home secretary to make a decision on the application for financial support.
The Home Office has spent more than £7m on the investigation being run by the Metropolitan police into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, officials said on Friday. British officers were in Portugal this week supporting their Portuguese counterparts as they interrogated 11 individuals – seven Portuguese and four Britons – as part of the investigation.
The money being sought by South Yorkshire police is understood to be a sum in thousands not millions.
Christine Needham, Ben’s grandmother, said: “The police really want to crack on with this and have heard nothing. We feel ignored and abandoned by the government. It’s very difficult. I am pleased for the family of Madeleine McCann that they are getting support, but what we are saying is please listen to our requests for support.
“Ben was a small child who went missing too. The police have some leads they need to follow up, and they need the funds to go and do it.”
South Yorkshire police would like to investigate leads which include eight sightings of a boy who could be Ben and to pursue information on individuals who might be of interest to the inquiry.
Ian Brownhill, a human rights barrister who is working pro bono for the Needhams, recently wrote to the home secretary seeking a response to the request for funding. He has not received a reply.
“What we are preparing to do now is to go to the high court to get a court order compelling the home secretary to respond to the police request,” he said.
“It looks like that is going to be the only way things are going to be resolved. People have been identified in Greece and it’s a case of the British police supporting the local Greek officers to pursue these leads.”
South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner has been in contact with the Home Office in an attempt to get a decision from officials.
Needham was 21 months old when he vanished on the Greek island of Kosin 1991, where he had travelled with his mother, Kerry, to stay with his grandparents who were living on the island. On the day he went missing, he was being looked after by his grandmother while his mother worked in a local hotel. He was running in and out of the farmhouse playing but at 2.30pm his grandparents noticed he was no longer around the house.
The disappearance of Ben Needham – who would have turned 25 last October – is one of the longest missing persons cases in British history.
There have been several sightings over the years of a boy of similar appearance to Ben, but all have proved to be false leads. In 1998 a tourist saw a blond boy of ten on a beach in Rhodes, but a DNA test proved he was not Ben.
Over the years police released a series of computer images showing how Ben might look as he was growing up.
In 2012 the Home Office supported a South Yorkshire police operation to excavate land on Kos near the farmhouse where Ben was last seen but no trace of the boy was found.
South Yorkshire police have said their role was a supporting one and the Greek authorities were responsible for the inquiry.
A spokeswoman said: “Our support for the Needham family and the Greek authorities has remained throughout.
“This is not our investigation, however should funding be made available we would seek to work with the Greek authorities in pursuit of progressing their investigation.”
Minister for policing Mike Penning confirmed a request for financial assistance had been made by South Yorkshire police. He said: “This is currently under consideration by the Home Office.”http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/dec/15/ben-needham-family-to-sue-home-office