Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Alex Batty’s family fear teenager was ‘brainwashed’ in commune while missing for six years

Relatives are overjoyed by Alex Batty’s discovery, but fear for his wellbeing after six years away

Alex Ross,Peter Allen
Friday 15 December 2023 13:04 GMT
‘Abducted’ Alex Batty has video called grandmother since being found, police say

A teenager allegedly abducted by his mother and grandfather six years ago and taken to a “spiritual community” in France has been “brainwashed” by the ordeal, his family have claimed.

Alex Batty was discovered walking near the town of Revel at the foot of the Pyranees in France by a delivery driver in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

The teenager told the motorist, Fabien Accidini, he had been abducted while on holiday in Spain with his mother, Melanie, and grandfather, David, and had since been living with the pair in a commune.

British teenager Alex Batty, pictured before he went missing (PA Media)

Asking to message his grandmother Susan Caruana, his legal guardian, he wrote to her on Facebook: “I love you, I want to come home.” The teenager was taken to police and is now expected back home in Oldham in the next few days.

But while the overjoyed family prepare to be reunited, questions remain over where the boy had been living over the past six years, the whereabouts of his mother and grandfather and the impact the period has had on him.

A video was released by Greater Manchester Police of Alex with his mother, Melanie, and grandfather, David, after he went missing (Supplied)

Speaking in 2017, Ms Caruana believed the pair had taken Alex to a commune in Morocco to seek an alternative lifestyle.

However, Mr Accidini said the teenager had told him he had initially lived in a luxury house in Spain as part of a “spiritual community”, before moving to France in around 2021.

French newspaper La Depeche du Midi reported that Alex had been staying between Ariege and Aude regions with a “travelling spiritual community” sleeping in caravans, lodges and tents.

Countryside sects are relatively common in south west France, and indeed across the border in Spain.

Alex’s aunt, Maureen Batty said while relatives were looking forward to seeing the teenager, they also feared for the impact of isolation and a lack of mainstream education. The 73-year-old told the Daily Mail: ‘Alex has been brainwashed by the religion David was in.’

She said: “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.”

The Villefranche-de-Lauragais gendarmerie, where Alex was identified by police (AFP via Getty Images)

The teenager was found by Mr Accidini looking exhausted as he walked along a road in the mountainous region near Toulouse. Alex told the driver, who is student, that’d he been hiking for four days after deciding to escape at the weekend.

In interviews, Mr Accidini said Alex had told him his mother was “in some bizarre delirium when he was talking about spirituality” but said he had no animosity toward her and only wanted to return to his grandmother.

He has refused to say where his mother is, said a prosecuting source in Toulouse.

Alex is now staying at a youth hostel in Toulouse having produced a statement to local police. At a press conference on Friday morning, Greater Manchester Police Assistant Chief Constable Chris Sykes said he would be back in the UK “over the next few days”.

The Villefranche-de-Lauragais gendarmerie said Alex was “in good health”.

Meanwhile, police are investigating the whereabouts of Alex’s mother and grandfather, and attempting to piece together the last six years of the boy’s life ahead of his arrival in the UK.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in