A schoolboy who spent more than two months sleeping rough as he explored three of Britain’s biggest cities after fleeing his remote rural home faces interviews with police and local authority officials to check he did not come to any harm.
Arthur Heeler-Frood, 15, was reading George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London – the classic tale of living on a shoestring – when he vanished with just £350 and no electronic equipment.
He finally returned following a nationwide police hunt and emotional appeals from his parents, explaining that he had been on an adventure and apologising for any trouble he had caused.
He said: “I have spent the last 10 weeks exploring London, Birmingham and Manchester by foot, sleeping rough at night.
“I am very grateful to everyone who has helped my family in trying to ensure my safe return. I apologise to the police for the time they spent looking for me and for the worry I have caused family and friends.”
The boy was back at home with his parents, Caroline, an artist, and Jeremy Heeler-Frood, a cabinet maker, on Wednesday after finding his way back to Devon by train, where he was met on the platform by Devon and Cornwall police officers.
He is expected to face questions from police, who routinely undertake a “safe and well check” when a missing child returns. The purpose is to find out if the child has suffered harm, where and with whom they have been, and to give them an opportunity to disclose any offending by or against them – though there is no suggestion Arthur has done anything wrong and his parents have said he is safe and well, if a little tired, smelly and grubby.
Arthur may also take part in an independent child return interview. Such a meeting would also try to identify and deal with any harm the child may have suffered as well as understanding and addressing why he ran away.
According to government guidance: “The interview provides an opportunity hear from the child about why they went missing and to understand the risks and issues faced by the child while missing.”
Arthur is one of an estimated 100,000 children who go missing every year, a quarter of whom are judged to be at risk of serious harm.
In a statement issued via Devon and Cornwall police, his parents said: “We are overjoyed to have Arthur home with us again – tired, grubby and rather smelly but otherwise none the worse for his experiences. We feel extremely lucky that he is safe and sound.
“Many thanks to Devon and Cornwall police for their professionalism and their tireless search for Arthur. Thank you also to the media for their help in raising awareness of his disappearance and our deep gratitude to all our friends and family who have supported us through this difficult time.
“We now wish to spend some time in private with Arthur to settle him back home and to make some plans for his future.”
The teenager went missing after leaving his family home in a tucked-away valley near Axminster on the morning of Tuesday 6 September and failing to turn up at school. The next day a letter arrived in which he explained that he was bored with his life, asking them not to try to find him and promising to be back within the year.
Speaking to the Guardian before his return, Ms Heeler-Frood said Arthur was an idealistic boy who liked the idea of adventure and may have been inspired by his older siblings, who had both travelled around Europe.
But she said he had grown up in the countryside and was not streetwise. “He was bright and had a strong interest in current affairs and politics,” she said.
“He was adventurous. He enjoyed all the Bear Grylls survival challenge programmes. For the last two summers his brother, Reuben, has hitchhiked across Europe. He travelled extensively into eastern Europe. His sister, Hester, went InterRailing. I think he was inspired by all that.
“We think that he felt he wanted his own adventure. Hester was leaving for university and he was going to be the last one at home with us. I think he wasn’t looking forward to being left alone with us. I think he wanted to test himself, prove his abilities.”
She said Arthur was an avid reader. “The book he was reading before he left was Down and Out in Paris and London. You wonder if that had been an influence. He was reading on a Kindle, which he left behind.”
He appears to have been returning home on a train when he was spotted by a member of the public, who called the police, giving them the chance to get in place when he arrived at Honiton station, nine miles from home.