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Alex Batty’s grandmother reveals heartbreaking final phone call

Teenager finally found in France last week, six years after vanishing from holiday with mother and grandfather

Tara Cobham
Saturday 23 December 2023 19:28 GMT
Criminal investigation launched into alleged abduction of Alex Batty

Alex Batty’s grandmother has revealed details of the final call she had with her grandson before he vanished for six years.

Susan Caruana, who was her grandson’s legal guardian at the time, feared she would never again see then 11-year-old Alex after speaking with him on the phone in September 2017.

The British teenager, now aged 17, was in Spain with his mother Melanie Batty, 43, and grandfather David Batty, 64, on what the pair had said would be a week-long vacation.

British teenager Alex Batty is now 17 years old

However, Ms Caruana told The Sun that moments after she had finished speaking with the boy, she heard his mother Melanie tell her son, “We’re getting rid of the phones.”

Ms Caruana did not hear from Alex for another six years.

He was finally found last week by a delivery driver who spotted Alex walking along a rural road near Chalabre in southern France at 3am on 13 December.

Now, Greater Manchester Police have launched a criminal investigation into the alleged abduction of the teenager.

Alex Batty as a child

Ms Caruana said she felt “utterly betrayed” by her daughter and her ex-husband after she allowed the duo to take her grandson away on the supposed holiday to Malaga.

The retired mental health support worker said she had been Alex’s legal guardian for 18 months to the anger of Melanie, who regarded her son as her “property” and demanded a £500,000 payment.

Ms Caruana remembered: “Melanie asked to take Alex on holiday and David said he would be going too. Alex wanted to go, like any child would. I was nervous about saying ‘Yes’ but I felt I had no choice but to give them a chance and trust them. How wrong could I have been?”

The trio are said to have flown to stay in a villa in Marbella, which belonged to a friend of Melanie – but never returned home to Oldham as promised. Instead, Alex was allowed to call his grandmother from a beach to tell her he would not be coming back, and this was when Ms Caruana overheard Melanie saying they would be ditching their phones. Later, their phones and passports were found thrown away in a McDonald’s bin.

Susan Caruana was her grandson’s legal guardian when he vanished

The 68-year-old said: “They completely and utterly betrayed me and left me heartbroken. I knew as soon as I heard her say, ‘We’re getting rid of the phones now.’ I thought, ‘I’ll never see him again.’”

She said she immediately contacted Greater Manchester Police, who later launched an alleged abduction investigation – however, Alex would not be found for another six years.

Alex told police upon recently coming home that he had been living a nomadic lifestyle in Spain, Morocco and France with his mother and grandfather as part of a “spiritual community” and had decided to leave when his mother talked about going to Finland.

He told The Sun that his years on the run were spent mostly friendless, and working in exchange for food and lodging rather than going to school – and so Harry Potter books were his salvation.

The French driver who found British teenager Alex and took him to a police station

He said: “I had a Harry Potter box set. I’m obsessed with it and must have read each of the books at least 20 times. I carried it everywhere even though it was massive and took up so much space. They’re amazing books. My main pastime was reading, because most of the places we were, we couldn’t get wifi. I tried to get as many as I could, but it was bloody difficult.”

Alex, who also tried to teach himself maths and computer science, said his desire to get an education was one of the main reasons he left his mother and grandfather’s rented house a couple of weeks ago.

He said: “During all my time away I never attended school for a single day. The only qualifications I have are my Sats test results from primary school when I lived back in Oldham. That’s one of the worst things that’s happened to me throughout all this – not having a proper education.”

Now that he is back in the UK, Alex is planning to get as many qualifications as possible and then go on to study computer science at university.

French prosecutor Antoine Leroy said Alex had told police he had left his mother after she decided to move to Finland

Authorities in France said last week that they thought Melanie could be in Finland and that David appeared to have died, but neither of those details seemed clear after the teenager gave his first interview.

Alex said he had feared the pair could be arrested on suspicion of child abduction, so he had lied about his escape.

Ms Caruana said she was overjoyed to be reunited with her grandson at her Oldham home last Saturday night after enduring years of not knowing whether Alex was even alive. She said she had learnt that he had been found when she received a phone call from her family liaison officer for the first time in a “long, long time”.

She said: “I didn’t hear anything from them again until Alex was found in France. During the whole six years, I never knew if they were alive or dead. Every time there was some sort of disaster, I feared that he could be a victim. And during Covid, I had no idea where he was, so I didn’t know if he was in a built-up area or not.”

The 68-year-old said she would never be able to forgive her daughter and her ex-husband for tricking her into allowing Alex to go on the trip, adding that it is not her fault if the pair end up in prison.

She said: “I don’t want to be the one to help them go to prison, but if they do, then it’s not my fault. Alex has come back home of his own free will. He told his mother, ‘You chose this life, but I don’t want it.’”

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