Police believe Ben Needham died in digger accident

Police searching for Ben Needham who disappeared 25 years ago on the island of Kos have said they believe he died in a digger accident.

Officers also revealed an item - thought to be a toy car - the toddler had with him at the time of his disappearance was found during a three-week dig near to where he went missing.

Detective Inspector John Cousins, from South Yorkshire Police, said the item is of "greatest significance" to the investigation.

He added that it is his "professional belief" that Ben, from Sheffield, died in an accident. The 21-month-old vanished on July 24 1991.

The latest three-week search operation was prompted by information that Ben may have been killed in a digger accident.

The driver, Konstantinos Barkas, is thought to have died from stomach cancer last year.

Speaking in Kos on Monday, Det Insp Cousins said: "It is without doubt that the current line of inquiry is the most probable cause for Ben's disappearance.

"My team 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 rented by the Needham's.

"It is my professional belief that Ben Needham died as a result of an accident near to the farmhouse where he was last seen playing."

  • Item of interest

The item believed to be in Ben's possession when he went missing was found on Saturday, a day before South Yorkshire Police concluded their three-week dig.

It was discovered in one of the targeted areas at the second dig site close to a dated item from 1991, and has been shown to some of Ben's family, Det Insp Cousins said.

Det Insp Cousins added: "It is our initial understanding that this item was in Ben's possession at or around the time that he went missing."

As many of 93 items were found during the dig, some of which will be brought back to the UK for further analysis, although most are of "low interest".

Officers during excavating land near to where Ben went missing. Credit: PA

Mr Cousins said the recovery of the item on Saturday added to his belief that material had been removed from the farmhouse on or shortly after the 21-month-old disappeared.

Despite this stage of the investigation coming to an end, the officer pledged to continue searching for answers, and paid tribute to Ben's family.

He concluded: "We remain committed to the investigation and it will not simply close; myself and Detective Superintendent Matt Fenwick will retain ownership of it and if new information comes to light, we will investigate it thoroughly.

"We will not stop in our quest to find further answers for Ben's family."