The family of a missing British toddler has called for DNA tests to be carried out on children found at Roma settlements - starting with the allegedly abducted little girl discovered earlier this week in Greece.
The sister of Ben Needham, a 21-month-old toddler who was abducted from his grandparents’ home on the island of Kos in 1991, said she wanted police to carry out an investigation based on her own DNA – beginning at the encampment near Farsala.
The settlement is at the centre of an international appeal to find the parents of a four-year-old girl, known only as Maria, who police believe may have been abducted.
An officer looked into Maria’s case when he saw the blonde-haired and blue-eyed child living in squalid conditions with a Roma couple and 13 other children whom she looked nothing like.
DNA tests confirmed that she was not related to the 39-year-old man and 40-year-old woman with whom she lived, and the couple have now been arrested on abduction charges.
The case has sparked new hope for the Needhams, who say they were told at the time by police that there was no way their toddler could have been abducted by Roma groups.
Ben’s mother Kerry told ITV: “My family and I are extremely delighted at the news that a four-year-old girl has been found in a gypsy camp in Larissa, Greece.
“We have always believed that Ben's abduction was gypsy-related and have had a long ongoing inquiry in Larissa. We hope that the investigation into Ben's disappearance will now be looked at again.”
Ben's sister Leighanna Needham, who at 20 had not been born when he went missing, said the discovery of Maria in the gypsy camp was welcome news and said DNA tests could be used to find Ben – or perhaps even his children.
“It's given us great hope,” she told Sky News yesterday.
“Obviously, it's been a strong belief of myself and all my family that Ben was taken by gypsies for child trafficking or illegal adoptions and this case just shows that they can be found.”
“I think that would be a brilliant thing to get our DNA out there, even if it's not actually Ben but any siblings or any children maybe of Ben (that are found) then that could hopefully lead us to him,” she said.
The Roma couple from Farsala insist that Maria’s is not a case of abduction, however. A lawyer representing the pair has said that the child was given to the family in 2009 by a woman who was unable to raise the child herself – claims repeated by their extended Roma family back at the settlement.
Nonetheless, the case has also given renewed hope to the McCann family in their search for missing daughter Madeleine.
Clarence Mitchell, a spokesman for her parents Kate and Gerry, said Maria had renewed their hope that Madeleine would also be found.
“They have always maintained that until there is evidence to prove otherwise missing children can still be out there waiting to be found,” he told the Daily Mirror.
Maria's discovery comes days after renewed interest in Madeleine's case across the UK and Europe following a BBC Crimewatch episode that aired on Monday night showing two new e-fits of a suspect.
Detectives investigating the case have since received more than 2,400 calls and emails since the programme aired.