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British teen Alex Batty arrives in UK 6 years after vanishing

Leroy said on Friday that the teenager decided to escape when his mother announced she was going to go to Finland
Leroy said on Friday that the teenager decided to escape when his mother announced she was going to go to Finland - Copyright AFP Ed JONES
Leroy said on Friday that the teenager decided to escape when his mother announced she was going to go to Finland - Copyright AFP Ed JONES

Alex Batty, a British teen who went missing six years ago and was found this week in southwest France, has arrived back in the UK, police said Saturday.

Hailing from the northern English city of Oldham, Alex was picked up on Wednesday night by a driver in a mountainous area of southern France.

“It gives me great pleasure to say Alex has now made his safe return back to the UK after six years,” Matt Boyle of Greater Manchester Police told reporters at the force’s headquarters in northwest England.

Earlier Saturday, the 17-year-old boarded a KLM flight in Toulouse, headed to London via Amsterdam.

He was accompanied by British police officers and a family member, said Boyle. 

“This moment was undoubtedly huge for him and his loved ones, and we are glad that they have been able to see each other again after all this time,” he added.

Alex will be returned to his maternal grandmother, with whom the British justice system had entrusted his custody before his mother abducted him, aged 11, while on holiday in Spain in 2017.

“I can’t wait to see him when we’re reunited,” Alex’s grandmother Susan Caruana — who according to British media reports is his legal guardian — said in a statement released by Greater Manchester Police.

For six years, including two in France, he lived a “nomadic” life in a “spiritual “community”, never staying more than several months in the same place.

The teen was found in the middle of the night by a delivery driver after he had walked along a road for four days, a deputy prosecutor told a news conference on Friday evening. 

He is in good health and does not appear to have been abused in the years since his abduction, according to the doctor who examined him.

His mother, Melanie Batty, has yet to be found and could be in Finland, Toulouse assistant prosecutor Antoine Leroy said earlier.

Alex told investigators he had not suffered any physical violence during the past six years.

– ‘Meditation and reincarnation’ –

Prosecutor Leroy said on Friday that the teenager decided to escape when his mother announced she was going to go to Finland, where she is “likely” to be now. 

The teenager told French investigators they had spent time in Morocco before moving to the French Pyrenees, along the border with Spain.

Alex also told the investigators that he had spent time in a spiritual community centre focused on “work on the ego, meditation and reincarnation”, the prosecutor said.

It was when his mother decided to move to Finland that he decided to escape, he said.

He had been walking along the road by night to avoid detection, foraging food from gardens and fields along the way.

A student working as a delivery driver, Fabien Accidini, picked Alex up on a road between two villages in the pouring rain in the small hours of Thursday morning.

“He clearly needed help,” Accidini told AFP, and since Alex did not speak French very well, he spoke to him in English.

“He was a bit suspicious at first,” he added, initially giving a false name. But as the boy helped him with his deliveries to local pharmacies, he began to open up.

“When he told me he’d been abducted, I made him say it again — it was crazy!” said Accidini.

He lent him his mobile phone so he could contact his grandmother in England via Facebook to tell her he wanted to come home, and then he got in touch with the police.

While they were waiting for them to arrive, Accidini entered the boy’s real name into the internet. “I typed in his first and last name and saw his photo, which was the same as his face today at 17.”

Alex told him he hoped to go back to school and study to become an engineer, he added.

“He had a good head on his shoulders,” said Accidini.

“He knew that where he was was not real life — and that he didn’t want that life in the future.”

AFP
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