Missing boy found in France to return to Britain in next two days

LONDON/TOULOUSE (Reuters) -A teenager from Britain who resurfaced in southern France after disappearing six years ago is expected to return to England over the weekend, French authorities said on Friday, after the boy left a spiritualist community in the Pyrenees mountains.

Alex Batty disappeared at the age of 11 during a holiday with his mother and grandfather in Malaga, Spain, in 2017.

Toulouse deputy prosecutor Antoine Leroy said the youth had spent the past two years in different areas of southern France, living in “spiritual communities” with his mother, but not in a sect.

“He said he was never locked up,” Leroy told a news conference, adding that the teenager said he had decided to leave his mother when he heard she was planning to move to Finland.

The grandfather died about six months ago, said Leroy, adding the boy’s mother might currently be in Finland.

“UK authorities are buying a ticket and will arrange for travel from Bordeaux. He will leave tomorrow or at the very latest the day after.”

Earlier Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said they were working with French authorities to bring Batty home to his grandmother, who is his legal guardian.

GMP Assistant Chief Constable Chris Sykes said Batty had spoken to his grandmother via video call on Thursday evening.

“We still have some work to do in establishing the full circumstances surrounding his disappearance and where he has been in all those years,” Sykes added. “At the moment the priority is speaking to Alex … Obviously his mother is part of that conversation and investigation.”

France’s BFM TV reported a search operation was underway to find Batty’s mother.

The GMP later issued a statement by Susan Caruana, Batty’s grandmother, expressing her delight he had been found.

“I spoke with him last night and it was so good to hear his voice and see his face again. I can’t wait to see him when we’re reunited,” she said, adding, “The main thing is that he’s safe, after what would be an overwhelming experience for anyone, not least a child.”

French official Leroy said the boy told police that he had not suffered any physical violence while living with his mother and grandfather.

A delivery driver earlier this week spotted the teenager wandering along a road around the southern city of Toulouse, saying the boy later told him he had left a remote mountain community in the Pyrenees.

The driver told media that Batty was carrying his belongings including a skateboard and a lamp when he stopped to assist the boy in the middle of the night.

Leroy said the teenager had been on the road for four days, often walking at night, and had found food in fields and vegetable gardens.

He added that Batty and his mother travelled around living in communal houses, living from gardening and odd jobs and always travelling with their own solar panels.

(Reporting by Sarah Young in London, Yiming Woo in Toulouse and Juliette Jabkhiro and Geert De Clercq in Paris, Writing by Kylie MacLellan and Tassilo HummelEditing by Kate Holton, Nick Macfie and Frances Kerry)