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Monday, May 18, 2009 

Scum-watch: The truth about Alfie Patten emerges.

You might recall I made a rather cryptic post at the end of March regarding a truly reprehensible piece of journalism which had appeared in the Sun being proved to be wholly inaccurate. If you didn't manage to work it out, I was referring to the Alfie Patten story, the 13-year-old who at 12 while looking 8 had apparently impregnated his girlfriend, although whether that's an adequate description of her is uncertain. There was at the time wide speculation that Patten was not the father (mostly incongruous that someone who looked so young was capable of being a father), and this was confirmed when the Mirror briefly put an article up on their website suggesting that was the case, in breach of an apparent court order, resulting in it disappearing within a matter of hours.

The Sun itself is now, without a hint of shame, "revealing" that Patten is not the father, presumably meaning that either they are now breaching the court order or that it's expired/been overturned.

It was always doubtful that the Sun's story was in the public interest, and I argued that even if it was, there are times when even if something is in the public interest, it shouldn't necessarily become public knowledge. In a case such as this, where the paper didn't even attempt to deny that it had paid Patten's parents for the story and where it was also clear that neither the parents or the paper had any real interest in the well-being of either the baby or the baby's juvenile parents, but rather respectively their own personal enrichment and their sales, with the Sun boasting of how its completely inaccurate article had resulted in it shooting to the top of the internet newspaper rankings, the Press Complaints Commission really ought to come down like a ton of bricks.

Equally clearly, the Sun has breached the PCC's code concerning children, especially the fourth clause:

iv) Minors must not be paid for material involving children’s welfare, nor parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child's interest.

It was arguable that even if Patten was the father, the effect on him from being thrust onto the front page of the nation's biggest selling newspaper was hardly likely to prove conducive to him being fully involved in the child's upbringing. Now that it turns out that Patten was not the father, there simply isn't an argument: if his parents hadn't gone looking for money, and if the Sun hadn't been looking for the latest terrible example of Broken Britain, then he would still probably have had to deal with learning that he was not the father after all, but not in the full public glare. This is the sort of thing which scars people for life: newspapers know this all too well, but Patten is the sort of individual who may as well not exist except as a commodity, someone to be used and abused and then forgotten about.

The Sun, naturally, had already featured the claims of the boy who has turned out to be the real father. As Peter Wilby noted at the time, usually those who fear they might have been the one to have knocked up a one-time girlfriend deny everything. Seeing that there was potentially money to be made, at least two and as many as six claimed they were the father. Again, without the slightest irony, the paper quotes the boy's father as saying:

He has broken down in tears at the thought he might be the father. He thinks his life has been ruined by this.

He might well be right. Patten's life though undoubtedly has been, and a baby and her parents have got off to the worst possible start imaginable, all thanks to the greed and shamelessness both of their own parents and of a newspaper that quite clearly has no morals whatsoever.

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If you can believe Max Clifford, he claimed on the Today programme this morning that the kid's parents spoke to the tabloids after being promised a large sum of money for their story, but then the papers refused to cough up!

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