Alex Batty will return to the UK 'by Sunday at the latest'

British teenager Alex Batty will return to the UK ‘by Sunday at the latest’: 17-year-old who was ‘kidnapped by his mother and grandfather six years ago’ will be reunited with his grandmother this weekend, officials reveals

  • Alex Batty is believed to have been kidnapped in 2017, when he was just eleven
  • He escaped and trekked across the Pyrenees before he was found Wednesday

The British teenager found in France six years after going missing in Spain is to return home to live with family this weekend, a French deputy prosecutor said on Friday.

Alex Batty, 17, was allegedly kidnapped by his mother and grandfather to live in a ‘spiritual commune’ in Spain and later the French Pyrenees in 2017, when he was 11.

He was found early on Wednesday morning after escaping and trekking across the mountains, foraging for what little food he could find from the fields and gardens.

Checks by French and British authorities have now confirmed the identity of the teenager from Oldham, who will be reunited with his maternal grandmother ‘tomorrow (Saturday) or after tomorrow (Sunday) at the latest,’ the deputy public prosecutor for the Toulouse region, Antoine Leroy, said this evening.

Alex’s grandmother Susan Caruana expressed ‘relief and happiness’ over the boy’s discovery. ‘I spoke with him last night and it was so good to hear his voice and see his face again,’ she said in a statement released by Greater Manchester Police.

‘I can’t wait to see him when we’re reunited. The main thing is that he’s safe, after what would be an overwhelming experience for anyone, not least a child.’

Assistant Chief Constable Chris Sykes of Greater Manchester Police earlier told reporters: ‘Our priority is to get him back to the UK and getting back to his family in Oldham as soon as possible… I expect it to happen over the next few days.’ 

Alex Batty, from Oldham, Lancashire, was just 11 when he did not return from a holiday to Spain with his mother Melanie, then 37, and grandfather David, then 58, in 2017. He has now been found six years later 

Alex Batty’s Grandmother Susan Caruana answers her door to reporters at her home in Oldham, Greater Manchester on Friday

Alex Batty (pictured left) – a British boy who said he was kidnapped and taken to a ‘spiritual commune’ by his mother Melanie (centre) and grandfather David (right) six years ago – was ‘brainwashed’ while living with them, his family in England have said

Alex flew to Malaga in September 2017 before being taken to a ‘spiritual community’ in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Investigators believe Alex escaped the rural community in southern France and spent days trekking across the French Pyrenees before being picked up by a trucker who took him to a police station in Revel, near Toulouse

Alex Batty, from Oldham, Greater Manchester, was just 11 when he did not return from a holiday to Spain with his mother Melanie, then 37, and grandfather David, then 58, in 2017.

Alex, now 17, has spent the last two years living in a ‘spiritual community’ in the foothills of the French Pyrenees with his mother and grandfather and a changing selection of about 10 other people who all believed in reincarnation, police said.

READ MORE: Pictured: Isolated farm where Alex Batty spent the last two years living under a false name and doing odd jobs in return for board and lodgings

French police today said that Alex told them he decided to flee the commune following his grandfather’s death six months ago and after his mother said she planned to move with him to Finland.

After six years of living a nomadic lifestyle travelling from Morocco to Spain and then on to France – all while never going to school and having to forage for food – Alex decided ‘this had to stop’, Toulouse Assistant Public Prosecutor Antoine Leroy said.

Leroy said Alex had told French prosecutors of his nomadic lifestyle over the past six years and how his grandfather David died six months ago. Alex said he had taken part in a ‘meditation’ ceremony at the time of his death.

Leroy said the teenager, whose father left when he was two years old, told police that he had been living with his mother and maternal grandfather for six years in ‘spiritual communes’ in Spain and Morocco before they travelled to the French Pyrenees where they set up camp.

Alex told them that his mother and grandfather had an ‘obsession’ with solar energy and they moved from house to house while taking the solar panels with them.

‘The mother experienced a sort of obsession with solar panels, so they were travelling to house to house with solar panels,’ Leroy said. ‘They only used car-sharing, they didn’t have their own vehicle.’

Continuing to describe how Alex had been living over the past six years, Leroy said the ‘spiritual commune’ he was part of would focus on meditation – and there was ‘no connection with the real world’.

He added: ‘They lived with around ten people – in Morocco, Spain, France – and they were never the same people.

‘They got food from allotments and there was work on the ego, meditation, there was no connection with the outside world. They believed in reincarnation.’

The farmhouse in the foothills of the Pyrenees, where he spent the last two years, is 40 miles – or an 11-hour walk – from where Alex was picked up by a delivery driver as he walked along a remote road near Chalabre at 2am on Wednesday

This is the remote country road in the south of France where a British teenager was spotted by a delivery driver after being missing for six years

Alex Batty is seen as a child in Morocco 

Leroy added: ‘What I’m describing is what happened in Morocco, in Spain and in France – it was always the same kind of thing.’

Leroy said it was his mother’s announcement that she planned to move them to Finland that made Alex decide to leave. He said it’s ‘possible’ Melanie has left France for Finland as she’d hoped.

‘When his mother indicated that she was going to leave with him to Finland, this young man understood that this had to stop. So then he decided to leave the place where he was with his mother and walked for four days and four nights,’ Leroy said.

In the four days that followed, Alex trekked across the mountains in the French Pyrenees until he was found by student Fabien on Wednesday at 3am.

‘He was exclusively walking at night and sleeping in the day,’ Leroy said. ‘He got food from fields and gardens before he was found.’ He added that Alex had 100 euros but no phone.

The teenager said he never suffered physical abuse during his six years away from his grandmother, who is his legal guardian, but did not talk about any emotional abuse.

Alex, 17, was picked up on the D16 – an unlit single carriageway country road between the towns of Chalabre and Mirepoix – at 2am on Wednesday after four days of walking, with locals saying he was lucky not to have been run over and killed.

He was wandering along the road in the pitch black when he was spotted by Fabien Accidini, a chiropractic student from Toulouse, who was delivering medical supplies to villages in the rural Aude department in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

An exhausted Alex was carrying a skateboard, a flashlight and had a rucksack on his back when he was picked up by Fabien before being taken to police in Revel, near Toulouse.

Speaking about Alex’s condition when he was checked over by officials, Leroy said: ‘This young man was described by the police who have seen him and by the doctors who examined him as ‘tired’ but overall in good health.

‘He’s said to be intelligent even though he’s never been to school in this entire period,’ Leroy said.

Alex said he had been trekking across the French Pyrenees for four days before Fabien spotted him – and one of the first things Alex did was message his grandmother from the student’s phone to say that he loves her and wants to come home

A picture of a luxury villa has now emerged, which Alex shared in 2017 saying he was ‘going on holiday’

And last week, Alex decided flee the ‘spiritual community’ and his mother and grandfather in the rural foothills of the French Pyrenees (file image)

Over several days, he hiked across mountains in the Pyrenees and crossed through several villages including Quillan (file image), in the upper Aude Valley in southern France

Locals told of their shock over the boy’s discovery.

Jean Lapierre, who lives in Chalabre, said: ‘I know that road well. There is no street lighting and walking at that time of the night along the side of the road where lorries go back forth, it’s a miracle he wasn’t hit by a vehicle.

READ MORE: The French region home to hippy communes ranging from conspiracy theorists to doomsday cults: Ariege, where Alex Batty has spent the last two years, is infamous for its ‘alternative’ lifestyle groups including one led by convicted paedophile

‘In the pouring rain, it would have been difficult to see the boy walking along the side of the road. When he [Accidini] saw him, I am not surprised he stopped to enquire after his welfare because it would be very unusual to see anyone walking on that stretch of road at that time of night.’

Mr Lapierreadded: ‘I read about this poor boy in the newspaper.

‘It’s incredible. But there are many remote farms in the mountains. People can live for months up there without seeing anyone.’

Meanwhile, Alex’s grandmother said today that she is ‘over the moon’ after she spoke to her grandson for the first time in six years and is now ‘desperate to see him’ following his escape from the ‘spiritual commune’ in the mountainous region of Ariege.

Speaking from the family home in Oldham today, an overwhelmed Ms Caruana said: ‘It’s amazing. It’s an incredible story. It’s unbelievable after all these years. I’m in shock, I can’t believe it. I have spoken to him and he’s well.

‘I’m desperate to see him over the weekend but I don’t know what’s happening. I’m waiting for the authorities to let me know. It’s been all over the news. It’s breath-taking, and I’m over the moon. I just can’t believe it.’

Ms Caruana told the Daily Mail: ‘I’m just elated that he’s coming home.’ Speaking about talking to Alex on the phone last night for the first time in six years, the emotional grandmother said: ‘When I first heard Alex’s voice it was absolutely like a dream. It is unbelievable.’

Police sources said today that a passport application for Alex was currently being ‘expedited’, but he is not expected back in the UK before the weekend.

Alex Batty, from Oldham, Lancashire, was just 11 when he went missing while travelling with family members in Spain in October 2017

Some of Alex’s friends on Facebook include people who appeared to live off-grid, practicing rituals, meditation and yoga. This is a picture one of them posted to social media

The teenager, who was ‘brainwashed’ by Melanie and David according to his family in England, is in the care of social services in Toulouse and has so far refused to say where exactly they were staying in their ‘spiritual commune’.

Alex’s cousin Stephen Devine said: ‘Alex’s mum was involved in a cult. His grandma became his guardian but then his mum Melissa and grandfather offered to take him on holiday for a week and they were never seen again.

‘It is going to be a big adjustment for him (to be home). He’s probably grown up without a formal education.’

Detectives from Greater Manchester Police have flown out to the Ariege region, which is known for hippy camps, conspiracy theorists, sects and cults, to bring Alex back home.

The officers from GMP are not currently being sent out to join the hunt for his mother and grandfather, it is understood, with detectives liaising with their French counterparts on the ground.

As they have not yet spoken directly to Alex themselves, his disappearance is not part of a criminal inquiry at this stage, although police chiefs confirmed today that his mother was ‘part of that conversation’.

‘We are urgently trying to establish the exact circumstances of where Alex has been living, so until we’ve got those answers this is still being considered a missing person inquiry,’ a source said.

‘There are lots of unanswered questions, starting from the point Alex failed to return home as planned back in 2017.

‘But the important thing today is that Alex is safe and well and has spoken to his grandmother.

‘So while officers are looking to speak with him about his disappearance, the priority at the moment is Alex’s welfare and reuniting him with his family in Oldham as quickly as possible.’

Police have refused to say confirm that Alex’s mother Melanie and grandfather David are suspects in the investigation.

But earlier GMP Assistant Chief Constable Chris Sykes told reporters: ‘Obviously his mother is part of that conversation and investigation.’

Alex is expected to come back to the UK for an emotional reunion with his grandmother in the next few days, Greater Manchester Police said

Meanwhile Ms Caruana said she does not know when he will be able to fly back but, asked if it was likely to be today, she replied: ‘Probably not.’

She added full arrangements for his return are still being arranged.

READ MORE: What happened to Alex Batty, the British boy found in France after vanishing in 2017 aged 11? 

Mrs Caruana said she ‘doesn’t know’ about the details of the group her ex-husband and daughter had taken Alex away to join.

But she added: ‘I’ll be able to talk more fully when he’s back and with his permission.’

Meanwhile, Sykes told a press conference today that his main priority at the moment is Alex’s safe return to the UK.

Sykes said: ‘I think I speak on behalf of the whole of Greater Manchester Police when I say we were relieved and overjoyed to receive news from the French Authorities that they believe Alex Batty had been located safe and well, more than 6 years after his disappearance. This is a huge moment for Alex, for his family and for the community in Oldham.’

Sykes continued: ‘He’s getting well cared for by the French authorities at the moment in Toulouse. Our priority is to get him back to the UK and get him back to his family in Oldham as soon as possible, that is expected to happen over the next few days.’

‘The young man and his grandmother spoke on a video call last night and whilst she is content that this is indeed Alex – we obviously have further checks to do when he returns to the country.’

Police are also now hunting for Melanie and David, with Sykes saying detectives ‘still have some work to do establishing the full circumstances surrounding Alex’s disappearance and where he has been in all those years.’

‘Obviously his mother is part of the investigation and conversation,’ Sykes added.

‘I can only imagine the emotions they have experienced throughout this ordeal. I would ask that they be granted privacy as they come to terms with what has happened and as they try to find a way to move forwards with their lives together,’ Sykes said.

Details are now beginning to emerge of the sort of life the teenager is likely to have led in the ‘itinerant commune’ he fled from in France, which was reportedly cut-off from mainstream society and had no schools.

Alex’s aunt, Maureen Batty, 73, has told how relatives feared for Alex’s wellbeing after so long away from his family in Britain and outside mainstream education. Maureen said: ‘Alex has been brainwashed by the religion David was in.’

Ms Batty told the Mail: ‘Alex hasn’t had any education while out there, so we don’t know what he’ll be like when he comes home. [He] has had it rough. It is a mess. I’ve been told that Alex said that he had escaped and he didn’t want to lead that lifestyle. I just want to know the truth about what’s gone on.’

Alex Batty’s guardian and grandmother, Sue Caruana, in 2019

Alex Batty, from Oldham, Lancashire, was just 11 when he did not return from a holiday to Spain with his mother Melanie, then 37, and grandfather David, then 58, in 2017

Some of Alex’s friends on Facebook include people who appeared to live off-grid, practicing rituals, meditation and yoga, referring to ‘Gaia’, the Greek earth goddess, and promoting the building of ‘sustainable and abundant communities’ in Morocco and elsewhere.

Ms Caruana, who has since remarried, said she spoke to Alex yesterday after so many years not knowing if he was dead or alive and couldn’t wait to be reunited with him.

Ms Caruana’s elation over her upcoming reunion with her grandson comes as a newly resurfaced interview with the grandmother revealed that Melanie went from being a law student to a ‘chaotic’ cult member in a few short years.

In 2018, Ms Caruana revealed that Melanie was a rebellious teenager, partying hard, drinking, and Susan and her husband, David, struggled to cope with her. She went to college and got a law degree but couldn’t hold down a job. In 2006, she gave birth to Alex.

Ms Caruana said: ‘I lived nearby, and I saw Alex every day, I looked after him a lot and we had such a close bond. I loaned loads of money to Melanie, to care for Alex, but she just blew the lot.’

Ms Caruana and David had separated by this stage and David was receiving therapy for health issues. Afterwards, he changed dramatically.

Ms Caruana said: ‘Dave went through therapy and afterwards he began acting strangely. He became very spiritual. He didn’t believe in working any more and so he fell behind with his mortgage and bills and the bailiffs were called in.

‘Melanie became caught up with his new lifestyle too and she got involved with a cult. She began travelling abroad, with Alex. Their lives were chaotic. Melanie didn’t believe in school or education. I was really worried about them.’

In 2014, Melanie took Alex, aged eight, to live in a commune in Morocco. David soon followed.

Alex later came back to the UK but his mother and grandfather took him to a luxury villa in Spain with around 10 people as part of a ‘spiritual community’ in 2017 before moving to France in 2021.

But this week Alex, now 17, fled the ‘spiritual community’ located in the foothills of the French Pyrenees and spent four days walking across the mountains trying to reach his grandmother in England.

Alex Batty, from Oldham, Lancashire, was just 11 when he did not return from a holiday to Spain with his mother Melanie (left), then 37, and grandfather David (right), then 58, in 2017

By some stroke of luck, Fabien Accidini (pictured), a chiropractic student from Toulouse, was driving along a road while delivering medicines in the mountainous region of Aude when he spotted Alex walking along in pouring rain at around 2am on Wednesday

A freezing and exhausted Alex, who was carrying a skateboard, gratefully accepted the offer of a lift from student Fabien Accidini and eventually told him of his extraordinary bid to leave southern France and get home to his family in England.

Alex should soon be returning home to England, French prosecutors said Thursday night, as an emotional Susan said she is ‘thrilled’ and in ‘shock’ that her beloved grandson has been found alive and well.

His relieved grandmother told The Times yesterday: ‘I spoke to him this afternoon and it is definitely him. I was speaking to a boy when he was with us and now I’m speaking to a man. I’m hoping he will return next week. I wish we didn’t have the weekend upon us. It’s quite unbelievable when you don’t know if somebody’s dead or alive.’

Prosecutors say that Alex’s family have now confirmed his identity. ‘We confirm the identity [of Alex Batty]. Now he will return to Great Britain,’ Toulouse public prosecutor’s office told La Depeche.

Alex said he had been trekking across the French Pyrenees for four days before Fabien, 26, spotted him – and one of the first things Alex did was message his grandmother from the student’s phone to say ‘I love you, I want to come home’.

Fabien told La Depeche newspaper of the moment he discovered the teenager: ‘He was walking while the rain fell in heavy drops. The second time I passed him, I decided to offer to drop him off somewhere.

‘He was quite tall and blond, and dressed in black jeans, a white sweater and a backpack. ‘He also carried a skateboard under his arm and a flashlight for lighting. His attitude gave me confidence. He ended up getting into my van.’

Fabien told Sky News that Alex seemed tired and stressed when he picked him up, but was ‘really fine physically’.

He added: ‘During the first few minutes, he seemed a little shy. We tried to speak in French but I noticed that he had not mastered the language. I decided to communicate in English. When I asked him his name, he pretended his name was Zach, and then we continued chatting.’

Fabien continued: ‘We talked for over three hours! Very quickly, he gave me his real identity – Alex Batty – before telling me his story.

‘He said his mother kidnapped him when he was 12 years old. Since then he had lived in Spain in a luxury house with around ten people for three years,’ Fabien said.

‘He arrived in France around 2021. In the middle of the weekend, he decided to leave his mother to join his family in England. He had been walking for more than four days.’

Alex told Fabien that he had been living with his mother and grandfather in a ‘spiritual community’ after they had kidnapped him.

Fabien said Alex had told him that his mother was ‘a little crazy’ and ‘in some bizarre delirium when he was talking about spirituality’ but insisted that she had never imprisoned him and he could ‘leave when he wanted’.

‘He had no animosity towards his mother but he really wanted to find his grandmother. He really missed his loved ones,’ Fabien said.

Fabien added: ‘He didn’t have regrets [about leaving the community]… he just wanted to live a normal life, to see his grandmother again and to have a normal future, that’s the word he used.’

Speaking about when he first saw Alex, Fabien continued: ‘He was thirsty since he had been walking for several days, so I gave him some water.

‘When he explained his situation to me, I gave him my phone because he never had a means of communication.

‘He sent a message to his grandmother from my Facebook. Unfortunately she didn’t respond. Initially, Alex wanted to go to a big city to find help and go to an embassy. But finally, I explained to him that the gendarmes could pick him up.’

Fabien drove Alex to the commune of Revel, near Toulouse in southern France before the 17-year-old told police who he was. But before they went to the police, Alex helped Fabien deliver medicine in the middle of the night and revealed he wants to be an engineer.

‘When he arrived [in Revel], Alex seemed very tired,’ said Fabien. ‘He lay down on the ground.

‘After that, the gendarmes questioned us. They were trying to find out if it was really him. When they had confirmation, he was taken into care to spend the night in a home.

‘It’s Alex Batty, 100 per cent. When I saw the photos published by the English media, I absolutely did not doubt his words.

‘I think he’s a little stressed about all this. I hope he will be able to reconnect with his previous life and maybe one day we will see each other again.’

When asked if he had a message for Alex, Fabien said: ‘I hope that your grandmother will be happy, I am sure of it. And if you want to meet again I am here.’

His grandmother, who was 62 at the time of his disappearance, said she was ‘thrilled’ that Alex had been found.

Alex flew into Malaga airport in Spain on a pre-agreed trip with Melanie – who does not have legal parental guardianship – and David for a week-long stay in the Benahavis area, near Marbella on 30 September 2017.

But Alex, his mother and grandfather did not come back home as expected on October 8 2017, sparking a massive police enquiry into the boy’s apparent abduction.

Alex’s heartbroken grandmother, who was 62 at the time of disappearance, said in 2018 that Melanie and David had previously lived on a commune in Morocco with Alex in 2014 as part of an ‘alternative lifestyle’.

Susan, who has never given up hope she will be reunited with her grandson, said she believed her daughter and ex-husband had abducted Alex so that he could live an ‘alternative lifestyle’.

She said at the time: ‘They didn’t want [Alex] to go to school, they don’t believe in mainstream school.’

Now prosecutors in south west France are certain that Alex, who is now 17, has turned up alone at a police station in the commune of Revel, near Toulouse, after a mammoth journey.

Alex, his mother and grandfather had been living between the departments of Ariege and Aude just east of Perpignan in southern France in tents and caravans pitched in the wilderness in recent weeks, reports La Depeche newspaper.

And last week, Alex decided flee the ‘spiritual community’ and his mother and grandfather in the rural foothills of the French Pyrenees.

Over several days, he hiked across mountains in the Pyrenees and crossed through several villages including Quillan, in the upper Aude Valley in southern France.

After a gruelling few days hiking through the mountainous region, an exhausted Alex stumbled onto a road and by some stroke of luck was picked up by medical student Fabien on Tuesday evening.

Fabien, who said the boy could only speak English, said he called the police after quickly realising Alex’s situation was ‘abnormal’. The driver dropped Alex off in Revel, Toulouse, before the 17-year-old went to the local police station.

Alex calmly told the shocked gendarmes how he had been living in a ‘spiritual community’ for the past six years and how he’s from the UK.

At the time of Alex’s disappearance six years ago, Greater Manchester Police said ‘extensive enquiries’ led them to believe that Alex, his mother and grandfather left Benahavis and may have tried to head to Melilla in Morocco from the Port of Malaga.

Officers said they believed Alex was staying with Melanie and David who are ‘both at large’ and wanted in connection with his abduction.

Recalling the day the trio were supposed to return home, Alex’s heartbroken grandmother Susan revealed that the trio had sent her a video of themselves saying why they had left the UK to live an ‘alternative lifestyle’.

Susan said in 2018: ‘I got this message on Facebook and it was a YouTube video of the three of them.

‘They all spoke on it and Melanie said the reasons why they had done what they had done.

‘Alex said it was a million times better being with his mum and granddad. Obviously it hurt a bit but then my other concerns kicked in.

‘The reason I believe they have done this is because basically my lifestyle, my belief systems, are not what they agree with – just simply living day to day, how normal people do.

‘They didn’t want him to go to school, they don’t believe in mainstream school.’

On David Batty’s Facebook, he posted pictures about the Matrix and how the government is ‘destroying our lives’. He also wrote that ‘secret courts’ in the UK are ‘being used to steal children for profit’

Susan has never given up hope that she would be reunited with her grandson.

On his 15th birthday, Susan pleaded with him to let her know he was safe and well in a post on Facebook.

‘Happy birthday to my gorgeous 15 year old grandson. Alex please have some pity, I am broken. Please just give me a sign that you’re ok.

‘I think every day that you are in some far off place living the life that your mum wanted for you. All I want to know is that you’re still alive and well.

‘It’s been years of torture, my heart is broken. I love you so much I just need to know you’re ok. I hope I will see you again some day, I would give anything just for one hug. Grandma x’

Greater Manchester Police said in a statement released today that officers in Oldham are in contact with French authorities to establish the authenticity of reports that Alex was found.

A spokesperson said: ‘This is a complex and long-running investigation, and we need to make further enquiries as well as putting appropriate safeguarding measures in place.’

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