Twenty five years ago today Kerry Needham gave birth to her first child, Ben, at Boston's Pilgrim Hospital in Lincolnshire. He was 6lb 6oz.
The Needhams were, and despite what fate was to bestow on them, are, a normal, hard-working family. But what happened to them 20 months later changed their lives and continues to shape everything they do.
Their existence from that day has been far from normal.
The family, including Kerry's two brothers, had moved to the Greek island of Kos for a new life in the sun during 1990/ 1991. Kerry's dad Eddie got work as a builder, renovating a farmhouse in Irakles. The farmhouse was at the end of an unmarked road which lead nowhere. There was only one way in and one way out. In front of the farmhouse was a vast expanse of land.
Eddie, Ben's grandma Christine and Ben all trekked up to the farmhouse on July 24, 1991 while Kerry went to work at a nearby bar. Around lunchtime Ben was playing outside.
Quoting from Kerry's book "Ben", he was being as playful as ever.
"Ben had discovered a water barrel and after he’d skimmed his cars along the surface he’d started scooping bowlfuls out to mix potions with dirt and leaves. When he tired of that, the next scoop was tipped straight over his own head."
(Ben's uncle Stephen had only recently arrived and left on a motorbike. )
The book carries on : "It was about two minutes after that Mum said, ‘Ben’s gone quiet.’
Dad laughed. ‘He can’t be up to any good.’
‘I’d better go and check. He’s probably cuddling a stray cat to death.’
Mum left the others and walked casually through the house. She didn’t call Ben, not at first. She expected to see him crouched down with his bucket and spade and mound of ants or a pile of sand. Things like that could hold his attention for ages. It was perfectly normal he’d go quiet.
Ben wasn’t where Mum expected. Where is the little bugger? She could see where he’d been so she didn’t panic. He can’t have got far.
Mum got her bearings and scanned the horizon. Everywhere she looked was mostly fields. She could see for miles in most directions and either it was so wide open that she would have been able to spot Ben in an instant or it was too overgrown for him to have dared to venture. That only left the lane. She walked to the top of the driveway, checking the hedges along the way. At the end she looked both ways, with no sign of him.
Well, obviously he went round the house while I came through it.
That was the only plausible explanation.
She trudged back up the driveway and walked the opposite way around the dilapidated building. Dad, Michaelis and Danny were exactly where she’d left them.
‘Has Ben been back in?’ Mum asked.
That was when she felt her stomach clench for the first time. This was the only place he could have been. If Ben wasn’t with Eddie and Danny …
She forced out the words she didn’t want to have to say. ‘He’s not here.’
‘What do you mean he’s not here?’
‘He’s not outside.’
‘Have you checked the driveway?’
‘Have you looked in the fields?’
‘Yes, yes!’ Mum was getting annoyed now. More out of worry than anger. ‘I’ve looked inside and out. If he’s not with you, then I don’t know where he is.’
July 24, 1991. A day that changed the lives of the Needham family forever. There is no physical evidence of what happened to him since that day. There have been hundreds if not thousands of "sightings" but none has been proved to be Ben. The family has spent thousands of pounds in their search for him - going all over Europe following up information and leads. In 2012 South Yorkshire Police lead a team including sniffer dogs, to excavate the site surrounding the farmhouse, in the hope that something may be found to give them a lead to his whereabouts. Nothing was found.
It is now understood the Home Office is considering a grant application from South Yorkshire Police to investigate further leads which connect sightings of a young blonde boy in the 1990s with a specific Greek family. Ben's mum Kerry wants the same support for her family as that given to the McCanns, whose daughter Madeleine disappeared from Portugal in 2007. That investigation has cost a reported £10m.
Last week on Calendar Kerry made a plea to David Cameron to intervene in her case, backed by her MP Angela Smith MP ( Lab, Penistone and Stocksbridge).
For Kerry, her mum and dad Eddie and Christine, brothers Danny and Stephen, her daughter Leighanna and grand daughter Hermione, and all her extended family, there is one hope - that one day they will be reunited with someone from whom they have spent, so far, 8,497 days apart.
In July 1991, Richard Whitely opened Calendar with the news that Ben had gone missing. The report includes a phone interview with Kerry who was still in Greece at the time: