Police searching for missing toddler Ben Needham say it is ‘most likely’ that he died as a result of an accident where he was last seen playing.
A three-week search for the remains of the 21-month-old found numerous items, including a belonging found on Saturday which is believed to have been ‘in Ben’s possession around the time he went missing’.
He disappeared from a farmhouse in the Iraklis area of Kos, Greece, in 1991.
The South Yorkshire Police search, which saw workers spend 3,600 hours physically digging and sifting through 1,200 tonnes of material, has now finished.
Detective Inspector Jon Cousins, the Senior Investigating Officer in Operation Ben, revealed that it is his ‘professional belief’ that the toddler died where he was last seen.
He said: ‘During the course of the enquiries we have made over the last 19 months, we have closed off a large number of theories about what happened to Ben, many of which have been open for over 20 years.
‘However, based on the information that I have now, as a result of an extensive and thorough investigation, it is without doubt that the current line of enquiry is the most probable cause for Ben’s disappearance.
‘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 Needham’s.
‘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.’
Cousins added that an item found at the site ‘adds to his belief’ that material was removed from the farmhouse around the time that the tot disappeared.
He said: ‘An item found on Saturday, which I have shown personally to some of Ben’s family, was found in one of the targeted areas at the second site, very close to a dated item from 1991.
‘It is our initial understanding that this item was in Ben’s possession around the time he went missing.
‘The recovery of this item, and its location, further adds to my belief that material was removed from the farmhouse on or shortly after the day that Ben disappeared.
‘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.’