EXCLUSIVE British police begin hunt for Alex Batty’s mother and grandfather as detectives fly out to search French region known for its hippy camps: Grandmother says she’s ‘over the moon’ and ‘desperate to see him’
- Alex Batty, from Oldham, was just 11 when he did not return from holiday in 2017
- He was allegedly kidnapped by mother and grandfather before he escaped
British detectives have launched a manhunt for a boy’s mother and grandfather in southern France after they allegedly kidnapped him and took him to a ‘spiritual commune’ six years ago where he was ‘brainwashed’ before he managed to escape.
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.
His grandmother and legal guardian, Susan Caruana, who has spent an agonising six years not knowing if her grandson is alive, said in 2018 that she believed her daughter Melanie and ex-husband David had taken Alex abroad to pursue an ‘alternative lifestyle’.
And in the early hours of Wednesday, Alex, now 17, was found by a medical student wandering through the mountains in southern France after he escaped the ‘spiritual commune’ located in the region of Ariege in the foothills of the French Pyrenees.
Now, detectives from Greater Manchester Police have flown out to France to hunt for Melanie and David in Ariege region, which is known for hippy camps, conspiracy theorists, sects and cults. The police officers will question Alex and likely ask him to tell them where his mother is and how to contact her.
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 is expected to come back to the UK for an emotional reunion with his grandmother in the next few days, Greater Manchester Police said today, adding that the teenager spoke to an overjoyed Ms Caruana on a video call last night.
This morning, an elated Ms Caruana said she is ‘over the moon’ that her grandson has been found after six years part and is now ‘desperate to see him’.
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, 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
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 today
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
Alex’s grandmother Susan (pictured), 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’
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
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: ‘It was like a dream, it was unbelievable.’
She 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.
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.’
READ MORE: How Alex Batty’s mother ‘went from law student to ‘chaotic’ cult member who left her young son in Morocco to live in Bali with a new boyfriend and sent her mother a £500,000 ‘bill’ for ‘her use of’ Alex’
Meanwhile, GMP Assistant Chief Constable Chris 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.’
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.
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’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 Spain in 2017 before moving to France to live in a ‘spiritual commune’ 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.
By some stroke of luck, Fabien Accidini, 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 Fabien’s offer of a lift 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’.
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 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
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 picture of a luxury villa has now emerged, which Alex shared in 2017 saying he was ‘going on holiday’
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’.
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
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
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.
READ MORE: Heartbreaking messages from the loving grandmother who never gave up hope of seeing Alex Batty again: How missing British boy’s legal guardian always dreamed she’d hear from him once more
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’.
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
Alex Batty, from Oldham, Lancashire, was just 11 when he went missing while travelling with family members in Spain in October 2017
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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