July 17th, 2024

French prosecutor says mother of British teenager missing for 6 years may have gone to Finland

By Jill Lawless And John Leicester, The Associated Press on December 15, 2023.

LONDON (AP) – A French prosecutor said on Friday that the mother of a British teenager who was found six years after he went missing may have gone to Finland and that his grandfather appears to have died.

The 17-year-old, Alex Batty, was found Wednesday in southwest France. British police have said that his mother, Melanie Batty, and his grandfather, David Batty, were wanted in connection with his disappearance in 2017.

But the French prosecutor, Antoine Leroy, said at a news conference in the southwestern French city of Toulouse that his mother has probably left France for Finland and that his grandfather is thought to have died about six months ago.

Leroy said the trio appears to have led a nomadic life, traveling with solar panels and moving from place to place, before they parted ways. He said they lived in Morocco before moving to the French Pyrenees. The teenager apparently didn’t want to follow his mother to Finland and walked for four days in southwest France before being picked up by a delivery driver who left him in the custody of French police.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

LONDON (AP) – The vehicle’s headlights silhouetted the exhausted teenager walking alone in the rain in deepest rural France, with a skateboard tucked under his arm.

“I said to myself, “˜That’s strange. It’s 3 am in the morning, it’s raining, he’s all by himself on the road between two villages,” delivery driver Fabien Accidini recounted.

From there, the story gets stranger still. The youngster, it turned out, was Alex Batty, a 17-year-old from Britain who had been missing since 2017.

U.K. police confirmed Friday that the teenager found by Accidini this week appears to be the boy who vanished at age 11 on a family holiday in Spain. The police said they are “relieved and overjoyed” he’s been found.

But there’s still a heap of unanswered questions, notably: Where has he been all this time?

Accidini, who spotted Batty on a roadside on Wednesday night in a remote area of the Aude region of southwest France, got a few clues.

Intrigued to see the teen alone in the rain with a flashlight, a rucksack and his skateboard, the deliveryman stopped “and asked if he was OK, what he was doing there, if he needed help and if he wanted me to drop him in a village,” Accidini told French broadcaster BFMTV.

Initially, Batty was suspicious, giving a false name, Zac, but he was also “very, very tired,” Accidini said. So he climbed aboard and they got chatting while Accidini finished his round.

“Once he felt reassured, he gave me his real name and told me that he had been kidnapped by his mother five years ago,” Accidini said. The teen added that he “then spent time in Spain and that he’d been in France for the past two years in a spiritual community that was a bit strange with his mother who is also a bit strange, a bit loopy.”

“He’d had enough. He said, “˜I am 17. I need a future.’ He didn’t see a future for him there.”

In a separate interview with La Depeche, Accidini said Batty “told me that he had been walking for four days, that he’d left from the mountains. He didn’t really know where.”

“He was very thirsty when I picked him up. I gave him some water.”

Batty used Accidini’s mobile phone to send a message to his grandmother. Accidini showed it to BFM. It read: “Hello grandma it is me Alex i am in France Toulouse i really hope that you receive this message i love you i want to come home.”

Accidini called French police, who then took custody of the lad. The prosecutors’ office in Toulouse said it would give more information at a news conference it scheduled for Friday afternoon.

Greater Manchester Police said Batty has subsequently had a video call with his grandmother, Susan Caruana.

“Whilst she is content that this is indeed Alex, we have further checks to do when he returns to the United Kingdom,” Assistant Chief Constable Chris Sykes said.

He said police were “still establishing the full circumstances around his disappearance and where he has been all these years.”

Sykes said Batty would return to relatives in Oldham, near Manchester, in “the next few days.”

“Our main priority now is to see Alex returned home to his family in the U.K. and our investigation team are working around the clock with partner agencies and the French authorities to ensure they are all fully supported,” Sykes said.

Greater Manchester Police said the teen’s mother, Melanie Batty, and his grandfather, David Batty, are wanted in connection with his disappearance and that their whereabouts are unknown. Batty traveled with them to Spain in 2017.

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Leicester reported from Le Pecq, France.

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