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Missing Ben's mother fears inquiry 'in jeopardy' after police drink binge claims

Published 12/05/2016

Ben Needham was 21 months old when he vanished on July 24 1991
Ben Needham was 21 months old when he vanished on July 24 1991

The mother of Ben Needham has pleaded with the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police not to permanently recall the officer leading the investigation into the disappearance of her son following reports of a drinking binge on a Greek island.

A barrister representing Kerry Needham and her family has written to the force's temporary chief, Dave Jones, saying a decision to recall Detective Superintendent Matt Fenwick could put the whole inquiry in jeopardy.

The letter states that "Ms Needham trusts the officers involved, believes they are working to the highest standards operationally and professionally and wishes there to be no disruption".

It adds: "To recall their leader is incredibly worrying for Ms Needham."

South Yorkshire Police have confirmed a senior officer has been recalled to the UK following reports that members of the team, which is on the island of Kos investigating Ben's 1991 disappearance, spent eight hours drinking wine and beer.

But the force would not confirm whether the officer recalled was Mr Fenwick.

The letter to Mr Jones, who only took over at South Yorkshire this month following the suspension of chief constable David Crompton in the wake of the Hillsborough inquests, was from barrister Ian Brownhill, who represents the Needham family.

Mr Brownhill said in the letter that Ms Needham "fears the entire investigation is in jeopardy".

He said: "I am instructed to strongly encourage you not to recall DSI Fenwick. Or, if his recall really is necessary, then please make it for the shortest of time possible."

The South Yorkshire Police officers have been dispatched to Kos in a fresh bid to discover what happened to Ben, who was just 21 months old when he went missing on the island in 1991.

Earlier, Ms Needham defended the officers at the centre of the row, telling ITV's Good Morning Britain she is confident they are doing all they can to discover the truth behind her son's disappearance.

She said: "They work so, so hard, putting every ounce of energy into trying to find out what happened to Ben and for this to come out, it could hinder the case.

"I know that without these officers we will not find the answers to Ben. I am so angry about it.

"No-one can understand how much hard work these officers put into this case. It is very, very cruel what has happened."

She told the programme: "Matt Fenwick is an amazing detective; he has been by our side for a few years now and we have never had any problem with his work.

"These police officers, they are human beings at the end of the day. What they choose to do in their own time is their business, not anybody else's.

"It is horrendous. I can't believe what has happened. We work together - the police, the media and myself, we work together as a team. This is just not team work.

"We are supposed to be trying to find the answers to what happened to Ben along with these detectives, and this could just hinder it. And I'm angry this report had to come out, it is just not nice."

South Yorkshire Police are investigating a report that the officers embarked on a drinking session hours after they launched a new appeal.

According to The Sun, by 5pm on Tuesday the officers had gathered for drinks at their hotel before heading to a pizzeria and bars.

The last members of the team to turn in wound up their evening at 1.24am, the paper said.

Earlier this year, South Yorkshire Police said they had received extra funding from the Home Office to help in the search for Ben, from Sheffield, who vanished on July 24 1991.

Mr Fenwick told The Sun on Wednesday evening the team was "desperately" trying to find the youngster.

The officer stressed the team was "working really hard", adding: "We were up at seven this morning and we've got officers still out now (at 8.30pm) interviewing people. What I can say is that no public money was spent on alcohol."

A South Yorkshire Police spokeswoman said: "We're absolutely committed to this investigation and require the highest possible standards from all of those involved. The team must now get on with the important task in hand."

She said: " Following concerns raised regarding the behaviour of some of those involved, the senior officer has been recalled to the UK with immediate effect to provide the details of exactly what has happened. An internal investigation will follow."

Mr Fenwick has been involved in a number of high-profile investigations for South Yorkshire Police. He has been the detective leading the inquiry into allegations against Sir Cliff Richard and he was also in charge of the investigation into the the murder of church organist Alan Greaves in Sheffield in 2012.

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