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British boy missing for six years found in France

By Maya Szaniecki, Joseph Ataman, Caitlin Danaher, Alex Hardie and Niamh Kennedy, CNN

(CNN) — A British boy who disappeared six years ago is set to return home as early as this weekend after a driver discovered him walking along a roadside in southern France.

Alex Batty has not been seen since he was 11 years old, after being taken on holiday in Spain in 2017 with his mother, “who did not have legal parental guardianship,” and his grandad, according to a police appeal released in February 2019.

Batty, now aged 17, was found in Haute-Garonne, near the city of Toulouse, a spokesperson for regional authorities told CNN.

British police say they do not have details on where Batty spent the past six years, but Fabien Accidini, a French motorist who rescued Batty from the side of the road, said the boy had been living in France for the past two years “in a spiritual community.”

Accidini said Batty told him he was “kidnapped by his mother” in 2017, before spending three years in Spain and two years in France.

“He told me he was kidnapped by his mother five years ago in Morocco. After that he was in Spain. And that he had been living France for the past two years in a spiritual community,” Accidini told CNN affiliate BFMTV.

According to Accidini, Batty described his mother as a “bit crazy.”

Accidini, a chiropractic student, had been delivering medicines to pharmacies overnight when he first came across Batty. After initially giving him a false name, Batty spoke to Accidini for three hours in English and French.

He saw Batty walking along the side of a road with a skateboard, a jacket, a backpack and a flashlight, according to French broadcaster TF1. He said it was raining when he found him and stopped because he was intrigued by what the boy was doing by the road.

“He told me that it had been four days that he was walking since he had left the mountains, he didn’t know where,” Fabien Accidini told reporters.

“He was relieved to leave, to return to England, to see his grandmother again because he didn’t want to live his whole life in that community,” Accidini said. “He wanted to have a real life with a real future.”

French authorities said that Batty could return to his family in the UK as early as Saturday.

“He will be returned to his family, at least his maternal grandmother, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow at the latest,” Toulouse assistant public prosecutor Antoine Leroy said during a televised briefing Friday.

Leroy said that Batty told him that he “decided to flee the community in which he lived,” because he was worried his mother would take him to Finland. According to Leroy, she is “likely” there “as we speak.”

“He himself uses the term ‘spiritual community’,” Leroy said, adding that “they travelled from house to house with solar panels, always car-pooling, always in places where there were large houses, where there were several families.”

“He doesn’t describe any physical violence of any kind… he doesn’t describe any physical violence from anyone, nor from his mother,” the French prosecutor also said.

Leroy said that the teenager is in good health. He added that his grandad had passed away about six months ago “in circumstances that are not yet known.”

‘I’m so happy’

Batty’s grandmother, Susan Caruana, his legal guardian, told the UK’s The Sun newspaper that she had spoken to Alex.

“I am so happy. I have spoken to him and he is well,” Caruana said, adding: “He is currently with the authorities in France. It is such a shock.”

In the TF1 report, Accidini showed a message sent on Wednesday at 3:29 a.m. local time (9:29 p.m. ET), that Batty reportedly sent to his grandmother from the Frenchman’s Facebook account.

The message 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.”

Greater Manchester Police in the United Kingdom said in a statement Thursday that they have been contacted regarding “a possible sighting in France of Alex Batty, who went missing in 2017.”

Officers in the English town of Oldham are in contact with French authorities to establish the “authenticity of the report,” the police added.

A spokesperson for Greater Manchester Police said: “This is a complex and long-running investigation, and we need to make further enquiries as well as putting appropriate safeguarding measures in place.”

This is a breaking news story and has been updated.

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