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British teenager Alex Batty returns home

LONDON (AP) — British teenager Alex Batty flew back to the UK on Saturday, six years after he left home on what was meant to be a two-week family vacation in Spain.

Batty never returned from that holiday to his grandmother and guardian in Oldham, near Manchester. Her frantic appeals found no trace of him – until he turned up this week, walking along a road in southern France in the middle of the night.

Assistant Chief Constable Matt Boyle of Greater Manchester Police said Batty had arrived in England on a flight from Toulouse.

He said police “are yet to fully establish the circumstances surrounding his disappearance” and whether there should be a criminal investigation.

Now, 17, Alex told French officials he had been living a nomadic lifestyle in Spain, Morocco and France with his mother and grandfather as part of a “spiritual community.” He said the family moved from place to place, grew their own food, meditated and contemplated reincarnation and other esoteric subjects.

When his mother said she wanted to move the family to Finland, Alex decided to leave, French prosecutor Antoine Leroy told reporters on Friday.

He was spotted by a delivery driver walking alone in the rain and dark with a flashlight, a rucksack and his skateboard. The driver, Fabien Accidini, offered him a lift, and Alex told him about his life and how he had walked for four days, traveling by night, through the remote and rugged Pyrenees.

Accidini said the boy told him “that he had been kidnapped by his mother” years ago. He added “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.”

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

Alex’s mother Melanie Batty is wanted by British police in connection with the boy’s disappearance. French officials say she may be in Finland, and Alex’s grandfather, David Batty, is believed to have died about six months ago.

The tale has generated intense interest in Britain, with a photo of a blond, 11-year-old Alex splashed across newspapers and news websites. The teenager’s grandmother, Susan Caruana, appealed for the family to be given time and space.

“I cannot begin to express my relief and happiness that Alex has been found safe and well,” she said in a statement issued through British police.

“The main thing is that he’s safe, after what would be an overwhelming experience for anyone, not least a child. I would ask that our family are given privacy as we welcome Alex back, so we can make this process as comforting as possible.”

Boyle, the British police officer, said detectives would be speaking to Alex “at a pace that feels comfortable to him.”

“No matter what, we understand that this may be an overwhelming process,” he said. “He may now be six years older than when he went missing, but he is still a young person.”

This undated photo issued by Greater Manchester Police on December 14 shows missing British schoolboy Alex Batty who was believed to have been abducted by his mother six years ago and has been found in France. PHOTO: AP
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