'He's safe now': Family's relief as Brit teen found after four-day mountain trek to escape French commune

15 December 2023, 00:34 | Updated: 15 December 2023, 07:44

Alex Batty went missing six years ago
Alex Batty went missing six years ago. Picture: PA/GMP

By Emma Soteriou

The family of British teen Alex Batty have shared their relief after he re-emerged after vanishing in Spain six years ago.

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Alex, now 17, messaged his grandmother that he loved her and wanted to come home after being discovered by a passing driver.

The British boy, originally from Oldham, was 11 years old when he went missing while travelling with his family in Marbella, Spain, in October 2017.

He was with his mum Melanie Batty at the time, as well as his grandad David. They were not allowed to be with Alex at the time due to "domestic difficulties".

Police eventually launched an investigation after the family did not return from Marbella.

According to regional newspaper La Depeche du Midi, Alex had been staying in France between Ariege and Aude regions with a "travelling spiritual community" sleeping in caravans, lodges and tents pitched in the wilderness in recent weeks.

He told a passing driver who found him that he had trekked across the Pyrenees for four days before finally trying to hitchhike on the road. He is now with social services in France.

Read more: 'I love you, I want to come home': Missing British boy's first words to grandma as he re-emerges after six years

His aunt, Maureen Batty, 73, from Nelson, Lancashire, revealed he would be arriving home next week.

“I am glad he has been found because we had no idea about where he has been for the last six or seven years," she told the Mirror. "I am relieved that he is safe. He is coming home next week.

"I don’t know where his mother or grandad are and they are not pressing Alex about it yet.

"Alex hasn’t had any education while out there, so we don’t know what he’ll be like when he comes home. It has affected me. Alex has had it rough. It is a mess."

She went on to say: "I just want to know the truth about what’s gone on. He is safe now."

Alex Batty went missing six years ago
Alex Batty went missing six years ago. Picture: PA

It is understood that Alex was picked up by a driver in the Aude region, who then took him to Toulouse.

The driver was a medical student called Fabien Accidini, who spotted him at 2am on Wednesday and allowed him to message his relieved grandmother, Susan Caruana.

"Hello grandma it is me Alex," he wrote to her on Facebook.

"I am in France, Toulouse, I really hope that you receive this message, I love you, I want to come home."

Speaking after his re-emergence, Ms Caruana said: "I am so happy. I have spoken to him and he is well. He is currently with the authorities in France. It is such a shock.

"I don't know where his mum is. It is great news. I am just waiting for him to come home. I am thrilled."

She told The Times: "I spoke to him this afternoon and it is definitely him.

Alex Batty's mum
Alex Batty's mum. Picture: PA

"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."

Mr Accidini, told La Depeche he had been driving in the Aude area to deliver medicine when he came across Alex, who was walking in the rain early on Wednesday.

"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 said.

"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."

Alex Batty's grandmother said they had chosen an 'alternative lifestyle'
Alex Batty's grandmother said they had chosen an 'alternative lifestyle'. Picture: PA

Mr Accidini said Alex told him that his mother was "a little crazy" and "in some bizarre delirium when he was talking about spirituality".

But he added 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," the driver explained.

He is believed to have escaped a rural community in the Pyrenees
He is believed to have escaped a rural community in the Pyrenees. Picture: PA

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At the time of his disappearance, Ms Caruana, his official guardian, suggested the family had opted for an "alternative lifestyle" elsewhere.

"They didn't want [Alex] to go to school, they don't believe in mainstream school," she said in 2017.

In 2018, Ms Caruana told the BBC she believed Alex's mum and granddad had taken him to live in a spiritual community in Morocco.

Police launched an investigation into his disappearance after he went missing in 2017 and that remains open.

A spokesperson for GMP 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."

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: "We are supporting a British national in France and are in contact with local authorities."

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