Friday, April 19, 2024
More
    HomeLifestyleAriege, where Alex Batty has spent the last two years, is infamous...

    Ariege, where Alex Batty has spent the last two years, is infamous for its ‘alternative’ lifestyle groups including one led by convicted paedophile

    • Alex was found this week in France after going missing in 2017 when he was 11
    • Detectives believe his mother and grandfather abducted him and embarked on a an an ‘alternative’ lifestyle abroad for the last six years



    The region of France from which a British boy escaped this week is infamous for ‘alternative’ lifestyle communities, conspiracy theorists and cults – including one which was led by a convicted paedophile.

    Alex Batty, from Oldham, Lancashire, went missing in 2017 when he was just 11 after going on a family holiday to Spain. He is now 17, and is currently waiting to return to the UK from Toulouse after being found close to the nearby town of Revel.

    He was last seen in Spain on October 8 of 2017, the day he was expected to return home with his mother Melanie Batty and his grandfather David.

    However, detectives believe they abducted Alex and – instead of returning to the UK – embarked on an ‘alternative’ lifestyle abroad for the last six years.

    Alex was found by a student named Fabien Accidini after the youngster had been wandering for some four days in a mountainous area of southern France having escaped from the ‘spiritual nomadic’ community on-foot.

    The isolated region has over the years developed a reputation for its off-the-grid communities, some of which have become bizarre cults.

    Alex Batty, from Oldham, Lancashire, went missing in 2017 when he was just 11 after going on a family holiday to Spain. It is believed his mother and grandfather took him to join an alternative lifestyle community in a region in southern France known for such groups
    Alex (left) was last seen in Spain on October 8 of 2017, the day he was expected to return home with his mother Melanie Batty (centre) and his grandfather David (right)
    Some of Alex’s friends on Facebook include people who appeared to live off-grid, practising rituals, meditation and yoga. This is a picture one of them posted to social media

    Accidini, who delivers medicines to pharmacies in the area, said it was raining hard when he picked up Alex on Wednesday, and that he eventually told his story.

    READ MORE: British police begin hunt for Alex Batty’s mother and grandfather as detectives fly out to search French region known for its hippy camps 

    ‘He said that his mother had kidnapped him when he was around 12,’ the student told local newspaper La Depeche. ‘Since then, he had lived in Spain in a luxury house with around ten people. He would have arrived in France around 2021.’

    He had lived with his mother in a ‘spiritual community’ in France and had ‘no animosity towards her but wanted to go back to his grandmother’, said Accidini.

    La Depeche said he had lived in France with his mother and grandfather in a ‘nomadic community’ in the nearby Aude and Ariege departments in Occitanie.

    Occitanie is mainland France’s most southern region, borders Spain and Andorra, and includes parts of the Pyrenees mountain range that separates the countries.

    The region – and Ariege specifically – is sparsely populated, far away from major cities, cheap to live in and has plenty of space for rural communities.

    As a result, it has become known for being a destination for escapists from across Europe in pursuit of an alternative ‘hippy’ way of life, while there have also been reports of cults operating in the region and in the wider Occitanie area.

    While it is not believed that Batty’s mother and grandfather were part of a cult, it is thought they travelled there because they wanted to pursue a more alternative way of living.

    They likely home schooled him, and travelled from place to place.

    According to experts, this is a common characteristic of people living in these communities in the region, who often want to break away from society.

    However, experts say this can lead down a path towards cult-like movements. 

    Simone Risch, president of Infos Sectes – an organisation specialising in the study of cults, said he often collects testimonies from those who have escaped such groups.

    Speaking to La Depeche, the head of the Toulouse-based organisation said ‘the break with society, children out of school, social isolation and life in self-sufficiency are often the beginnings of a shift towards a sectarian movement’.

    ‘If the choice of an alternative and itinerant lifestyle does not in itself constitute a sectarian drift, we must still remain vigilant about the evolution of these organisations,’ the specialist added. 

    ‘Some are renewed very quickly, through social networks and can show another face,’ Risch warned. 

    Risch told La Depeche last year that his organisation has seen a rise in sect-like groups since the Covid-19 pandemic, combined with use of the internet.

    Speaking separately to Le Journal, he said: The fear generated by health crisis, whether for one’s own health, the vaccine, a chip… has opened a boulevard to deviant movements.’ 

    He also said in the interview with La Depeche that the language and actions of people involved in such groups share similar characteristics.

    ‘People are invited online to follow pseudo-therapist sessions, with increasingly strong pressure, they then only think about that and no longer have social openness,’ he told the French publication.

    A picture of a luxury villa Alex was thought to have been living in with his mother and grandfather has emerged, which Alex shared in 2017 saying he was ‘going on holiday’
    And last week, Alex decided flee the ‘spiritual community’ and his mother and grandfather in the rural foothills of the French Pyrenees (file image)
    Over several days, he hiked across mountains in the Pyrenees and crossed through several villages including Quillan (file image), in the upper Aude Valley in southern France
    Alex’s grandmother Susan (pictured), who was 62 at the time of disappearance, said in 2018 that Melanie and David had previously lived on a commune in Morocco with Alex in 2014 as part of an ‘alternative lifestyle’

    ‘There is the network, contact with the pseudo therapist and sometimes also, meetings in small groups. In Ariège, the markets are another very interesting source of information for these collectives.’

    READ MORE: How Alex Batty’s mother ‘went from law student to ‘chaotic’ cult member who left her young son in Morocco to live in Bali with a new boyfriend and sent her mother a £500,000 ‘bill’ for ‘her use of’ Alex’

    He added: ‘When the person is part of a deviant organisation, a sectarian group, they are not aware of what they are experiencing and the parents will be unable to do anything about it unless the latter is in a state of vulnerability with regard to the law.’

    Ariège has made headlines before over sect-like groups and communities.

    Perhaps the most famous instance involved a man named Robert Le Dinh, who settled in southern France in the 1980s and founded and led a mystical Christian community in Lot-et-Garonne, then in Ariège.

    The ‘Guru’ claimed to have recieved a divine revelation in the early 80s, something that he convinced a group of followers of, and led the community for 25 years.

    However, things took a darker turn when between 2007 and 2010, seven former followers accused Le Dinh – nicknamed ‘Tan’ – of rape, fraud and sectarian excesses.

    He was eventually sentenced to fifteen years in prison over his actions as a cult leader, but was later acquitted on appeal in 2012 for the charges of rape and fraud.

    Instead, he was sentenced to ten years in prison for sexual assault on two minors.

    Former followers went on to speak of how Le Dinh exercised mental control over them in order to obtain sexual favours and money.

    He was also accused of having sexual relations with several followers, with his victims afraid of what he called the ‘law of return’ – a curse they believed he had placed over them.

    In 2020, aged 60, Le Dinh had his sentence reduced and was released from prison. It is understood that he returned to Ariège.

    In 2015, another community drew the attention of French authorities in Pyrénées-Atlantiques, a region to the west of Ariège and also along the Pyrenees mountains.

    Guru Robert Le Dinh is tried for sexual assault in France on September 10. He settled in southern France in the 1980s, where he founded and led a cult
    French police raided this manor house owned by a group called ‘Tabitha’s place’ – also known as the ‘apostolic order’ or ‘The Twelve Tribes’ – which had been classified by France in the category of apocalyptic sects since 1995
    The group’s 120 people all lived in the large building, where its followers would ‘apply the precepts of the Bible to the letter,’ the former president of France’s Mission for Vigilance and the Fight against Sectarian Abuses (MIVILUDES) said in 2006. Pictured: A wedding at the Thabita’s Place community in France on March 10, 1996
    Testimonies from former members resulted in a raid against Tabitha’s place, with officials citing abuses against minors such as isolation from wider society

    French police raided a manor house owned by a group called ‘Tabitha’s place’ – also known as the ‘apostolic order’ or ‘The Twelve Tribes’ – which had been classified by France in the category of apocalyptic sects since 1995.

    The group’s 120 people all lived in the building, where its followers would ‘apply the precepts of the Bible to the letter,’ the former president of France’s Mission for Vigilance and the Fight against Sectarian Abuses (MIVILUDES) said in 2006.

    ‘The men wear buns, the women long dresses and long hair. A bit like the Amish,’ Georges Fenech told LeFigaro at the time.

    The Republican deputy from Rhone at the time added: ‘The members of this very strict community believe that the end of the world is approaching’.

    Testimonies from former members resulted in a raid against Tabitha’s place, with officials citing abuses against minors such as isolation from wider society.

    In 2002 nineteen members of the group were convicted for ‘evasion of parents’ legal obligations’.

    Elsewhere, in the village of Bugarach – which sits at the foot of the striking Pic de Bugarach mountain – there have long been concerns about cult activity.

    The village is in the Aude department, next to Ariège.

    In the 1960s and 70s, Pic de Bugarach (Peak of Bugarag) became popular with the hippie movement, and later became a favourite spot for New Age followers – who believed the ‘upside-down mountain’ had mystical powers.

    This led to the belief that it would be the only place in the world that would be spared from the 2012 apocalypse, leading to an influx in people visiting the village.

    In the 1960s and 70s, Pic de Bugarach (Peak of Bugarag) became popular with the hippie movement, and later became a favourite spot for New Age followers – who believed the ‘upside-down mountain’ had mystical powers
    People gather at dusk in Bugarath, a small village in the foothills of the Pyrenees on December 20, 2012 in Bugarach
    Cult followers believed aliens lived inside the mountain and would spare any humans who decided to leave the planet with them before its destruction on December 21

    Cult followers believed aliens lived inside the mountain and would spare any humans who decided to leave the planet with them before its destruction on December 21.

    Such beliefs led to a doubling of the number of visitors to the mountain, with the number rising to 20,000, while MIVILUDES took particular interest in the village over fears that it could see mass suicide events.

    At one point, the mayor even considered calling in the army.

    In an interview in 2012, a former cult member spoke to France’s Midi Libre newspaper about her experiences in a doomsday cult in the village.

    While she did not name the cult itself, she recalled how a ‘guru’ instructed his followers to dig on the slopes of Pic de Bugarach, in Camps-sur-Agly.

    There, she dug for 18 years, having first met the ‘guru’ in a bookstore in Nice. The man, she said, claimed to ‘be in dialogue with the one he called ‘The Father’.’

    He told his followers where Cathars (a heretical Christian sect that flourished in western Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries) had ‘buried their treasure’, and that this was the spot where they would need to prepare for a new era.

    The group dug wells down into the ground that were over 60 feet deep, and guarded the site with weapons – including grenades – to fend off any raids.

    However, she told Midi Libre that in 1998 the camp was suddenly abandoned.

    ‘[The Guru] simply told us that ‘The Father’ had ordered him to leave,’ she said.

    Not all alternative lifestyle communities in the region are as sinister, however.

    Based on reports online, some – such as the Pourgues eco-village – simply want to escape big cities, live off the land and live by their own principles. A key factor in this is home-schooling their children, or teaching them in community-run schools. 

    However, Simone Risch says that this can often be an early warning sign.

    ‘We are seeing an evolution in these communities. They no longer have anything to do with organisations like the Order of the Solar Temple,’ he told Le journal.

    ‘They are much more subtle, more discreet and well organised. It is therefore more difficult for loved ones to realise that there has been indoctrination.’

    It is understood that British police are heading to the region in southern France in an attempt to track down the mother and grandfather of Alex Batty.

    Meanwhile, the teenager is expected to return to his family in northern England in the next few days, British police said today.

    A police patrol blocks the access to the Pic de Bugarach (Peak of Bugarag), Southern France, on 19 December 2012. Bugarach is a small village of some 200 people on the French side of the Pyrenees, that at the time became a centre of attention because some believed it was the only spot on Earth expected to survive a coming global apocalypse

    Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said they were working with the French authorities to bring Alex Batty back to Britain.

    ‘He’s getting well cared for by the French authorities at the moment … Our priority is to get him back to the UK and get him back to his family in Oldham as soon as possible, that is expected to happen over the next few days,’ GMP Assistant Chief Constable Chris Sykes told a press conference.

    ‘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 said.

    Sykes said Batty had spoken to his grandmother via video call on Thursday evening.

    RELATED ARTICLES

    LEAVE A REPLY

    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here

    - Advertisment -
    Google search engine

    Most Popular

    Recent Comments