By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — As gardai search for a missing 9-year-old English boy, his heartbroken mother spoke last week of the "nightmare" of her search for him since he vanished from a Greek island in 1991.
Following a request from the international police organization Interpol to check out a report that 21-month-old Ben Needham, from Sheffield, might have been abducted and brought to Ireland when he vanished from the island of Kos, gardai issued a computer-generated picture of what the boy might look like today and appealed for help.
Ten people phoned the confidential helpline on the first day of the appeal and the missing boy’s mother, Kerry, said she has a lot of faith in the gardai but is not building up her hopes.
There have been over 200 claimed sightings of Ben in countries as far apart as the U.S., Spain, Turkey, German and Britain.
Needham, who is critical of the efforts of Greek police, is convinced her toddler son was abducted to be illegally adopted.
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Needham, who has a 5-year-old daughter, said that she and her family will never give up hope because if they did, Ben would have no family to come home to.
"I think that is what drives us on," she told RTE last week. "I just live for that day when my two children will be together."
The Garda search follows an anonymous message to a Greek missing persons television program on May 15 that claimed that the boy had been abducted by British tourists and taken to Ireland.
Gardai say a letter, written in Greek, was sent to the presenter of the program and was accompanied by a photograph of a young blond boy who appeared to be about 5.
Kerry said there were striking similarities in the photograph to what Ben looked like.
The claim follows in a long line of similar reports. More than 200 alleged sightings have been checked out and all proved negative.
"We haven’t much to go on apart from the fact that he may be in the country, but we are taking the report seriously," a Garda spokesman said.
The boy’s grandparents Eddie and Christine Needham had moved to Greece and were joined by their son and daughter, Kerry, then 19, and Ben.
Kerry Needham said she had been alerted about a possible Irish connection when a friend in Athens rang her after seeing the TV program.
She said Ben had been with hos grandmother and vanished in the space of three minutes after being left to play outside a remote home the family was renovating on the island.
"The main theory is that he was taken by Greek gypsies who were involved in child-selling organizations," Needham said. "They sell them on to people such as lawyers and social workers and they then get sold on again to influential rich people in illegal adoptions.
"The only thing I can be 100 percent sure of is that he was abducted — by who or why I can’t answer."
Needham said that in the early years of her search, all the family’s hopes and emotions had been raised by reports of where he might be.
"Over the last year and a half we have come, as a family, to be able to control this as best we can," she said. "We try to keep very levelheaded about the whole thing because it is really devastating when the end result is not Ben.