Police 'missed an early chance to send Alex Batty home' after he 'tried to enrol in school' - but no-one recognised him

16 December 2023, 10:49

Police are said to have missed an opportunity to send Alex Batty home
Police are said to have missed an opportunity to send Alex Batty home. Picture: Handout

By Kit Heren

Police are said to have missed a chance to get Alex Batty back to the UK after he tried to sign up for a school in France - but no one recognised the missing teenager.

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Oldham boy Alex, who has been missing in Spain and France for six years after his mother and grandfather took him to join a 'spiritual community', tried to enrol at a school in Quillan, south-east France, last month, French media have reported.

But the 17-year-old spoke little French and had no identification papers, and so the school contacted the police, according to La Depeche.

"The gendarmes tried to contact the English authorities," an investigating source told the paper, but "there was a hiccup which did not allow the report to be followed up.

"Collaboration [between the French and the British] did not make it possible to establish a link between the presence of Alex Batty in Quillan and his disappearance notice issued seven years earlier in England."

Read more: ‘Kidnapped’ Alex Batty ‘had enough when his mother tried to take him to Finland’ say French police

Read More: ‘Kidnapped’ Alex Batty coming home in days to ‘relieved’ family - as he shares emotional first video call with gran

Alex Batty, who is now 17, went missing in 2017 after going on a family holiday to Spain.
Alex Batty, who is now 17, went missing in 2017 after going on a family holiday to Spain. Picture: Greater Manchester Police

Alex left his mother and their 'spiritual community' in France's Pyrenees mountains after she told him they had to go to Finland, prosecutors have said. He has been missing since 2017.

He was picked up by a driver after wandering through the mountains for four days, and taken to the authorities.

French authorities said on Friday that Alex would go home to Oldham "tomorrow (Saturday) or after tomorrow (Sunday) at the latest", after identity checks were completed.

His grandmother Susan Caruana has spent years waiting to be reunited with Alex and the two have managed to talk over the phone.

Ms Caruana said: "I cannot begin to express my relief and happiness that Alex has been found safe and well.

"I spoke with him last night and it was so good to hear his voice and see his face again. 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.

"I would ask that our family are given privacy as we welcome Alex back, so we can make this process as comforting as possible."

Susan Caruana cannot wait to see her grandson again
Susan Caruana cannot wait to see her grandson again. Picture: Alamy

Alex went missing in 2017 after going on a family holiday to Spain with his mother Melanie, then 37, and grandfather David, then 58.

Addressing media on Saturday afternoon, French assistant public prosecutor Antoine Leroy said Alex had been on the move with his mother Melanie for the past six years after the alleged kidnap.

The three spent time in Morocco before pursuing a nomadic lifestyle in France's Pyrenees mountains with a 'spiritual community'.

Mr Leroy told reporters Alex knew the life he was having with his mother "had to stop" after she announced intentions to move to Finland.

Addressing the whereabouts of Alex's mother and grandfather, Mr Leroy said: "It is possible that the mother at this time has in fact gone to Finland as she planned."

After leaving his mother, Alex then spent four days walking before being found by a delivery driver. Police said Alex walked at night and slept during the day before he was found walking along in the rain in the foothills of the Pyrenees early on Wednesday morning.

Alex will now return home to his grandmother - and legal guardian - Ms Caruana, who has spent the past six years not knowing where her grandson was and if he was alive after her daughter Melanie and ex-husband David allegedly took him from his home in pursuit of an "alternative lifestyle".

A road sign at the end of the village of Camon, south-western France, after Alex Batty, a British boy who disappeared in Spain six years ago when he was 11, has been found near, in a mountainous area, in France on December 14, 2023
A road sign at the end of the village of Camon, south-western France, after Alex Batty, a British boy who disappeared in Spain six years ago when he was 11, has been found near, in a mountainous area, in France on December 14, 2023. Picture: Getty

Mr Leroy said Alex's grandfather, who had been with him and his mother since 2017, likely died some six months ago.

He said Alex told French police that he did not attend a funeral - but there was instead a ceremony within the 'spiritual community' in which the three were a part.

Alex will now return to the UK, police said, following discussions with the British ambassador.

Public prosecutor Antoine Leroy (C) holds a press conference about Alex Batty
Public prosecutor Antoine Leroy (C) holds a press conference about Alex Batty. Picture: Getty

He also described how Alex had been living for the past six years. He said his community have "no connection with the real world" and added that the group "believed in reincarnation."

"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," Mr Leroy continued.

"He's said to be intelligent even though he's never been to school in this entire period."

Alex was taken to a 'spiritual commune' by his mother and grandfather six years ago
Alex was taken to a 'spiritual commune' by his mother and grandfather six years ago. Picture: PA

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Mr Leroy, still addressing the press conference this afternoon, addressed Alex's condition further, stating that he "doesn't describe any kind of physical violence, without talking about emotional violence."

The French prosecutor said Alex did not describe the group in the mountains as a "sect" but was instead "talking of a spiritual community".

He continued: "The mother experienced a sort of fear of solar panels, so they were travelling from house to house with solar panels.

"They only used car-sharing, they didn't have their own vehicle."

Mr Leroy added: "What I'm describing is what happened in Morocco, in Spain and in France - it was always the same way of living."

Prosecutors also have also given further insight into the four-day ordeal that saw Alex leave his mother and their community in the French Pyrenees.

Mr Leroy told reporters Alex Batty got food from "whatever he found in the fields and the gardens".

Addressing what the teenager said to the student who found him, Mr Leroy added: "He explained that he was being searched for and that he wanted protection."

It comes after Alex last night spoke on a video call with his grandmother - who has not seen him for six years after his alleged kidnapping.

"The young man and Alex's 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 United Kingdom," police old reporters.

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