Father at 13: Little children, big money

Alfie Patten stands to make a small fortune from the story of how he fathered a child at 13. But his family is already locked in dispute over a red-top deal, writes Andrew Johnson

Everyone says that the story of Alfie Patten, the tiny boy-child now paraded as the father of a child of his own, is a morality tale for the 21st century. The trouble is, no one seems to be clear what the moral is. That we have a "broken society"? That some early teenagers think that having a baby is a smart career move? Or, as Alfie and Chantelle, the child's mother, are discovering, that having such a well-publicised and extraordinary birth is akin to entering the world of reality television – nice, lucrative work if you can get it, but peopled with pitfalls and sharks that even grown-ups have trouble coping with.

For this weekend the two children find themselves at the centre of a global media feeding frenzy, bidding wars, contracts and the promise of hundreds of thousands of pounds – a sum many will see as a distinctly inappropriate return for a night of playing unprotected mothers and fathers.

At least 15 television companies are locked in a fierce battle to make a documentary about the cherubic teenager's young fatherhood, and media experts estimate Alfie could earn up to half a million pounds.

The Independent on Sunday has also learnt that behind this week's revelations was a furious row between Alfie's family and The Sun. The newspaper is accused of "turning over" the family and reneging on a deal to pay about £25,000 for the initial photographs and video interview, which was uploaded on the paper's website.

The media relations expert Max Clifford, who looks after celebrities including Jade Goody and Simon Cowell, said that the family should have expected at least £100,000 for the photo spread that broke the news to the world. He is now representing the family after being called in on Friday, the day the story broke, by Alfie's father, Dennis, who has eight other children, after being deluged by the world's media. "When people come to me often it's not about money," Clifford said yesterday. "Dennis contacted me because the media were coming from every direction, as far away as Australia. I've always said that if the newspapers make money, then the people who are the story should make some of that money too."

The story that appeared in The Sun, which was tipped off by a family member, hinged on the fact that Alfie didn't look old enough to father a child. Without the picture there would be no story – tales of 13-year-olds fathering children, although shocking, are not unusual enough to be news in themselves, even though in this case the mother, Chantelle Stedman was, at 15, older than the father.

It is understood The Sun had offered Alfie's family up to £25,000 to take the photographs and video footage of the newborn child while the mother was still in Eastbourne Hospital, East Sussex. After Maisie Roxanne was born on Monday, Sun reporters and photographers posed as visitors to enter the hospital. The story was then published on Friday, the day after Chantelle and Maisie were discharged from hospital and when the deputy Sun editor Dominic Mohan was overseeing the paper. Sources say The Sun then sought to renege on its deal – believed to have been agreed only via email – and offered merely £10,000. It may still sound like a lot of money, but The Sun will have earned much more.

Other sources have claimed that Mr Clifford and The Sun had a row about the failure to honour the initial deal, which Mr Clifford was not involved in. It is understood that at least 15 television production companies are involved in a bidding war to make a documentary about how Alfie copes with bringing up his daughter, with £80,000 expected to be paid by the winner.

Phil Hall, the former editor of the News of the World, who now runs his own public relations company, said that the young couple could expect to earn up to half a million pounds in the next few years. "There would be a documentary, pictures of the child's first birthday, her first day at school when her father will possibly still be in school," he said. "Nobody wants to set up Alfie as a role model, or to celebrate what's happened. At the same time, people have a lot of sympathy with him. It's a moral dilemma, but this is a story that is worthy of national debate.

"If Alfie turns out to do well in a few years, then it will be an upbeat story, success against the odds. And of course it has to be handled properly, with assurances that the money goes to Alfie and with the involvement of the authorities."

The birth of Maisie sparked a moral furore, with former the Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, who now runs the Centre for Social Justice think-tank, arguing that it showed Britain's moral decline. There was shock at how Alfie, who was 12 at the time of conception and is only four feet tall, could have fathered a child. He and Chantelle were reportedly allowed to stay together overnight by Chantelle's parents and had unprotected sex only once. Chantelle said she was on the pill but had forgotten to take it.

The young parents are living with Chantelle's mother Penny, 38, father Steve, 43, and five siblings in a council house in Eastbourne. The family lives on benefits. No one from The Sun was available for comment.

Life after birth: 'I missed out on my own childhood'

Despite what has been said about Alfie Patten, not all young families end in disaster.

James Sutton, from Manchester, became Britain's youngest father of twins in 1999 when aged 13. James was only 12 when his 16-year old girlfriend, Sarah Drinkwater, conceived. The press predicted a bleak future but, a decade on, as well as looking after Leah and Louise, the couple have also had a third daughter, Ellie. After working full-time, James saved and bought the family their own £100,000 home. He helped look after the children while Sarah went through university. Speaking in 2007, James said: "If I could do it again I'd have waited until I was in my 20s, because I missed out on my own childhood."