British teenager Alex Batty could have been found five months earlier but French police were on strike so failed to follow up a tip-off when he tried to enrol at college
- Alex applied to a prestigious IT college in Perpignan, South of France, last July
- Teachers were suspicious when he applied with a fake name and alerted police
British teenager Alex Batty could have been found five months ago alongside his still-missing ‘kidnapper’ mother – but French police were on strike and apparently failed to act, it emerged today.
The extraordinary revelations came on Thursday after 17-year-old Alex returned home to Oldham, Greater Manchester, six years after being abducted.
His mother and alleged kidnapper, 48-year-old Melanie Batty, remains on the run.
She is said to have forced him to live in an itinerant ‘spiritual community’ instead of returning to his legal guardian – his grandmother, Susan Caruana, 68.
Now it has emerged that Alex and a woman turned up at prestigious IT college in Perpignan, in the South of France, last July.
Alex, from Oldham, was 11 when he did not return from a holiday to Spain with his mother Melanie in 2017. He has now returned to the UK after six years
Teachers at Ecole 42 (School 42) were impressed by his online application, which included passing a computer exam ‘with flying colours’. But there were concerned by his profile, especially as he was using fake personal details.
EXCLUSIVEREAD MORE: First pictures of missing Alex Batty’s mother and grandfather living together as a family in France before the teen reappeared
‘He gave his name as Zack Edwards,’ said Marie Payré, the administrative manager of Ecole 42. ‘He told us by email that an airline had lost his identity papers.’
When Alex arrived in Perpignan, ‘we started to have a clue about what was going on,’ Ms Payré told the France Bleu radio station.
This was when Alex said: ‘Zack Edwards is just a nickname, my real name is Alex Batty.’
Géro Vigney, the director of Ecole 42, then realised that his potential student was a wanted child, and his mother was on the run.
Mr Vigney handed over all details to the police, including the address where Alex ‘was staying with the woman who accompanied him.’
‘It didn’t happen like in the movies,’ said Mr Vigney.
‘When I arrived at the police station, it was in the middle of a national police strike, so I was asked to come back at 3pm.
‘I think everyone found themselves faced with a situation they were not supposed to be in, but it annoyed me a little because we are still talking about a minor who has been missing for six years!’
A police chief finally took Mr Vigney’s statement by phone, with Mr Vigney saying: ‘I gave him all the information, even the address of the lodge where he was staying with the woman who had accompanied him.
‘I was told that the investigation was underway and that we would be kept informed, but since July, we never heard any news.’
Alex Batty (pictured left) with his mother Melanie (centre) and grandfather David six years ago
The international police agency Interpol was involved in the increasingly complicated case since Alex went missing in 2017 during a holiday to Spain.
He was with his mother at the time, as well as his paternal grandfather, David Batty, who would now be 64.
There are claims that Mr Batty died six months ago, but even that theory has now been called into question.
No record of Mr Batty’s death has been filed, and neighbours in the hamlet of La Bastide, near Carcassonne, where they once lived, said they saw him looking fit and well within the last two weeks.
Greater Manchester police flew to south west France to collect Alex – who turned himself into gendarmes last Wednesday after a delivery driver picked him up on the side of a rural road – but for diplomatic reasons could not assist the French in looking for Mr and Ms Batty.
A French source said: ‘The British are now leading the investigation, and they of course will be interviewing Alex at length. His mother is crucial to the enquiry, and she needs to be found.’
The Garden of Eden Spiritual community, where Melanie Batty was living in France
A tent inside woodland at the ‘Garden of Eden’ ‘spiritual community’ near Chalabre, Aude
The search area in France alone is a huge swathe of Pyrenean countryside that is hugely popular with spiritual communities, sects, cults and hippies.
It is understood that the community the Battys joined never stayed anywhere for more than a two weeks before moving on, living off the land and whatever money they could pull together.
Contacted about the latest development in the case, Jean-David Cavaillé, the Perpignan public prosecutor, said: ‘The police officers reported to the duty prosecutor’s office, and the facts were reported to the Quillan gendarmerie.’
Quillan is close to where Alex was believed to be staying in France.
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