'I love you, I want to come home'
The return of missing child Alex Batty. Plus: Chanel brings £8 million into Manchester
Dear Millers — welcome to this week’s briefing, which leads on the extraordinary case of Alex Batty from Oldham, who was abducted by his mother and grandfather (who were not his legal guardians) while on holiday in 2017 and was missing until last Wednesday, when he was found in the foothills of the Pyrenees. We’ve also got updates on the economic impact of the Chanel show and more travel nightmares for passengers who have the grave misfortune of having to rely on Avanti West Coast.
🎄 Christmas is less than a week away and you’re still hunting for a thoughtful, local, sustainable gift for a Mancunian friend. The pressure is on — but fear not! For the next few days, we’re offering 25% off gift subscriptions so you can give the gift of quality local journalism for just £52.50 a year. It will give someone a year of enjoyment with no planet-destroying plastic wrapping or need to fight through the Trafford Centre crowds. Just click the link below before the offer runs out.
Over the weekend, we published a fascinating piece by our resident historian Thomas McGrath. He delved into the stories of Manchester’s misers, secret millionaires who lived in squalor while squirrelling away their riches. McGrath writes:
“It’s not known if they experienced loss in their lives, either financial or personal, in which they might therefore derive a sense of comfort from having the money or possessions around them at home. There may have been an element of control over their own decisions and their futures too, which comes with having money readily available.”
“From one of my favourite writers, a Saturday morning feast of a story that strikes at the heart of the human condition,” commented long-time member Anne Forster. “Excellent piece,” said Hilary Saltburn. “I have known several people in this kind of situation, though none of them in the multi-millionaire bracket, and I suspect it's fairly common. It seems to go hand in hand with hoarding, and with a lot of fear around emotional closeness.”
Coming soon: a ‘magnetically attractive event’
From today’s sponsor: Manchester is globally renowned for its bands and its football teams, but we also have — in the words of The Times — “one of the world's best orchestras”. The Hallé have been entertaining Mancunian audiences for 165 years and they have a sensational calendar of concerts ready for 2024, including a three-day celebration of the music of Steve Reich, a living legend from the world of contemporary classical music. It will feature world-class artists like “daring percussionist” Colin Currie and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. Reich himself says the festival “promises to be a magnetically attractive event.” Book your tickets now.
Want to reach almost 40,000 Millers with your message? Get in touch about becoming a Mill sponsor. We have a couple of free slots still available in January and February.
🌦️ This week’s weather
Tuesday 🌦️ Outbreaks of rain which will slowly clear south throughout the day, turning drier and brighter in the afternoon, especially in north Manchester. Max 10°C.
Wednesday 🌧️ Turning windy with intermittent spells of moderate to heavy rain. Max 11°C.
Thursday ⚠️ Gusty winds with showers merging to longer spells of rain at times. A yellow weather warning for wind is already in place. Max 11°C.
Friday 🌦️ Feeling colder & very windy once again with showery rain. Max 9°C.
Weekend 🌦️ A white Christmas seems unlikely at the time of writing, but we can hopefully enjoy more mild temperatures to round off the week.
You can find the latest forecast at Manchester Weather on Facebook — daily forecasts are published at 6.15am.
The big story: The unlikely return of Alex Batty
Top line: Alex Batty, a boy from Oldham who went missing during a family holiday in 2017, was found in France last Wednesday. He returned to the UK on Saturday night, reunited with his grandmother and legal guardian, Susan Caruana.
The backstory: Alex was taken on a pre-arranged holiday to Marbella with his mother, Melanie, and grandfather, David, on 30 September 2017. He was 11 years old at the time. He was last seen at the Port of Malaga a week later, the BBC reports.
Melanie had a “chaotic” lifestyle, Alex’s grandmother said in a 2018 interview. She and her father David became involved in “alternative lifestyles”, eschewing work, school and other commitments to instead travel and live in communes around the world.
In 2014, then eight years old, Alex was taken by Melanie to live in a commune in Morocco. Susan worried about the conditions, and when Melanie left the commune for Bali without Alex, she paid for his flight home and became his legal guardian in 2016.
How he disappeared: Melanie asked to take Alex on holiday to Marbella in 2017. Susan, who wanted the pair to still have contact, agreed. Then, Susan was reported to have received a video message from Melanie telling her Alex wouldn’t be coming home. Susan said in 2018:
“The reason I believe they have done this is because basically my lifestyle, my belief systems, are not what they agree with — just simply living day to day, how normal people do.”
French prosecutors said that after going missing, Alex was taken to live in a spiritual community in Morocco and then moved to the Pyrenees.
Discovery: At around 3am on Wednesday, a delivery driver named Fabien Accidini came across Alex walking the foothills of the Pyrenees alone in the rain. Originally, he told Accidini his name was Zach, but then revealed his true identity and story.
He had left Melanie in a commune in the Pyrenees, where he had been living on and off.
The Times reported he sometimes lived in a gîte with a French family for months at a time, first left there by his mother in 2021.
At the gîte, Alex did chores and became “part of our family and had good relations with our kids”, said Frederic Hambye and Ingrid Beauve, the owners. They also said he was eager to return to school and normal life.
Alex left his mother when she told him they’d be going to Finland. He is said to have walked for four days and nights through the Pyrenees, before being picked up by Accidini. They finished his delivery rounds together and Accidini, who at first didn’t believe him, then called the police.
“After I called the police to explain the situation, when the cops arrived, that’s when I realised the whole story [was real],” he told Sky News.
In a message to Susan from Accidini’s phone, Alex wrote: "Hello Grandma, it's me Alex. I'm in France, Toulouse. I hope that you receive this message. I love you, I want to come home."
Return home: On Saturday night, Alex flew home to the UK and spent the rest of his weekend with his grandmother, Susan. Questions still remain surrounding Alex’s mother and grandfather. Authorities are searching for Melanie, who Alex says is going to see the Northern Lights, and while David was said to have died six months ago, neighbours claim to have seen him mowing his garden about a week ago.
Your Mill briefing
👛 Chanel’s Métiers d’art show brought an estimated £8 million into Manchester’s economy, according to Marketing Manchester. Mostly, this is from the show’s approximately 600 guests and staff packing out all the most expensive hotels (Mollie crashing the afterparty had no discernible economic benefit, it’s been claimed). The Mill has been told that the council’s agreement with Chanel meant that it recouped all of the city’s direct costs and officials were delighted by the deal because of the “huge economic boost” the catwalk show would bring. “It's Manchester on a global platform again,” one insider said. “It's glamorous.”
🚄 Andy Burnham has slammed Avanti West Coast for its poor performance after a series of cancellations meant that passengers were “crammed in carriages” while first-class areas remained empty. “Bear in mind that this is a time when many of our residents are looking to travel or go home for the Christmas break,” Burnham said in a meeting of other northern leaders at a Transport for the North meeting last Thursday. “It is simply unacceptable that we are yet again in this position where we cannot rely on a rail service between ourselves and the capital city.”
🏛 The prosecutor at the trial into the murder of Brianna Ghey — the 16-year-old stabbed to death in February — has told the jury not to try and fathom why two 15-year-olds allegedly killed Brianna, so long as they are sure they did. Referring to messages sent between the two suspects, anonymised as Girl X and Boy Y, that appear to plan Brianna’s murder down to who would distract Brianna before the other stabbed her, Deanna Heer KC said: “There could have been no doubt in Boy Y's mind why Girl X wanted him to bring his knife to Culcheth, because it is there in black and white.”
❓ Is Manchester trading on past glories? That’s been the debate in the wake of Chanel’s show — which included artwork by Factory Records co-founder Peter Saville and included many a throw-back to Manchester’s musical past. The Guardian’s Helen Pidd wrote that “if I hear Blue Monday play one more time, I’m moving to Leeds,” and music writer Dave Haslam called the constant use of black and yellow stripes “extremely cringey.” Local tour guide Jonathan Schofield disagrees, arguing that Manchester is doing the right thing by playing the tourist card. What do you think? Meet us in the comments.
Home of the week
This Victorian terrace is nestled in the countryside in Stalybridge and has four bedrooms spread across four floors. It's on the market for £339,950.
Our favourite reads
In the end, Caroline Aherne had to blackmail BBC executives to get them to commission a series of The Royle Family. “Everyone tried to talk us out of it. Caroline was having none of it, though,” Craig Cash says. “She was like, ‘If you don’t do it, I’m not doing another Mrs Merton series.’” The Royle Family became one of the most-watched sitcoms of the late 90s and early 2000s and earned Aherne multiple BAFTAs, but the press intrusion that followed led her to sink into depression. “She would say, ‘I’m just not funny any more, I can’t write, I can’t do it’,” Cash remembers. “But we knew it was just the depression talking because the minute you were in her house she was taking the piss out of you and having a laugh.”
The spectacular rise and sudden fall of Gurpaal Judge — The Dispatch
At the age of 24, a property agent in Wolverhampton had an awakening at a Buddhist retreat and decided to solve homelessness. This year, his companies collapsed owing £13 million. What went wrong? That’s the subject of a fascinating investigation in our sister title The Dispatch, which may remind you of our recent digging into Yale Housing Association. “Did you get greedy along the way?” The Dispatch asks Gurpaal Judge on his doorstep. "No. The only thing we were greedy about was trying to house as many homeless people as possible."
In the past three years alone, researchers from the University of Manchester have found over 70 cases of police and prosecutors using rap as evidence of criminality, a big rise from previous research between 2005 and 2020, where researchers uncovered 67 cases. “There’s mass confusion about the idea that Black people can create music that is complex, layered and not just first-person narrative,” Adele Oliver, author of Deeping It: Colonialism, Culture and Criminalisation of UK Drill, says.
Our to do list
📚 Last chance to come along to the “slow book fair” at esea contemporary (formerly the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, on Thomas Street in the Northern Quarter), which features displays of books, newspapers and magazines by independent South Asian writers and artists. It ends this week, find out more here.
🕯️ Home Instead Charities, who work to help older people experiencing loneliness, have curated a lovely evening of seasonal Christmas music by candlelight in Manchester Cathedral. Tickets cost £17.50 and all proceeds go towards their charitable work.
🍸 Late night bar and food hall Exhibition on Peter Street has one party left this year, featuring hip-hop and bass DJs Shimrise and Rich Reason. Reserve a free place here.
💿 The buzzy cocktail bar Electrik in Chorlton has curated an evening of DJs and experimental artwork to celebrate the launch of DJ Chris Massey’s new album The Thief of Time. It’s free.
🐻 If you’ve managed to wind the kids up into a particularly festive mood, the Lowry is showing We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, based on the much-loved picture book by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxbury. Tickets here.
🐍 Gallery Oldham’s latest exhibition Wild Colour features wildlife footage from David Attenborough’s latest Planet Earth documentary, with a particular focus on how colours and patterns affect the way animals communicate in the wild. More here.