Twenty-one years ago, a young boy from Sheffield disappeared without trace on the Greek island of Kos. Today, British police began digging for his body. Sadly, he is far from the only one.
Ben Needham is one of a number of British youngsters who are missing presumed murdered. The vast majority disappear here, but the highest profile such disappearance over probably the past thirty years has been that of Madelaine McCann. She was abducted from a holiday apartment in Portugal on the evening of May 3, 2007. The case became a cause célèbre for a number of reasons, including the slightly unusual babysitting arrangements of her parents.
Because so little information was known or released, the tabloids, especially in Britain, began inventing their own. This proved to be an expensive exercise due to three separate libel actions. One was brought by Robert Murat, a British ex-pat who lived locally. He spoke fluent Portuguese, so offered to help with the translating. He ended up having the finger pointed at him and being accused of all sorts of other things. The truth is that Murat was a divorcee who had a young daughter about the same age as Madelaine; the girl lived with his ex-wife, her mother. Murat empathised with the McCanns and was trying to be helpful. Another case of no good deed going unpunished.
Release to press
One of the early pictures released of Madeleine McCann who went missing in Portugal while on vacation with her parents in 2007.
The parents of Madelaine McCann and their friends, the Tapas Seven, also brought successful libel actions.
To this day, there has been no confirmed sighting of Madelaine, and though her parents have obviously not given up hope, the girl is almost certainly dead, and was probably murdered within hours of her abduction. It would be unkind to speculate further.
Still probably the highest profile case of this nature in England if not Britain is that of Genette Tate who literally disappeared off the face of the Earth in April 1978 from near her West Country home, the village of Aylesbeare. Her bicycle was found in the road, and nothing else. She was thirteen at the time, a bit too old for the man who has become and remains the chief suspect in her murder, predator and serial killer Robert Black. There has been serious talk about putting Black on trial for Genette's murder, but even a conviction would probably not solve anything. To date he has remained silent as he has about his other, later crimes.
August this year saw the death of Winnie Johnson. Mrs Johnson was 78, which is a fair age, but she went to her grave without the comfort of knowing the whereabouts of her 12 year old son, Keith. She knew for a fact he was dead, and that he is buried somewhere on the windswept moors of Yorkshire, but all attempts to locate his body, including by his killers, have been in vain. Keith is one of five acknowledged victims of the Moors Murderers: Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. Hindley died in hospital ten years ago, though still in prison custody. Ian Brady who is classed as insane but is both rational and lucid, will likewise never be released.
An official release
April Jones, the five year old girl who was snatched off the street as she played near her home in Machynlleth, Wales.
Meanwhile, the hunt for Ben Needham goes on. The police are being typically tight lipped but clearly they have received new information about the disappearance of this young boy, who was less than two years old when he was apparently kidnapped from this family's holiday home on Kos.
Finally, another hunt goes on, this one for a young girl who we can say for certain was kidnapped, and who is now believed by the police to be dead.
April Jones was five years old, and was seen getting into a white van by her young friends near her home at Machynlleth, Wales. A local man has been charged with her abduction and murder, but the search for April, or more realistically for her body, goes on. April suffered from cerebral palsy, and needed constant medication.