Theresa May under fire over deportation cat claim


Home Secretary Theresa May on restoring "sanity to our immigration system"

Home Secretary Theresa May has been criticised for claiming that an illegal immigrant avoided deportation because of his pet cat.

She told the Conservative conference the ruling illustrated the problem with human rights laws, but England's top judges said she had got it wrong.

Her Cabinet colleague Ken Clarke said he had been "surprised" by the claim and could not believe it was true.

And human rights campaigners said Mrs May should get "her facts straight".

'Needs to go'

Mrs May made the remark during a speech in which she repeated her belief that the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law, "needs to go".

She also outlined how she planned to rewrite immigration rules to prevent "misinterpretation" of Article 8 of the convention - the right to family life.

She said the meaning of Article 8 had been "perverted" and used to prevent the removal of foreign national prisoners and illegal immigrants - more than 100 of whom successfully used it last year to avoid deportation.

Start Quote

The cat surprised me ”

End Quote Ken Clarke Justice Secretary

She pledged to clear up any "misconception" by judges about what it meant.

"We all know the stories about the Human Rights Act... about the illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because, and I am not making this up, he had a pet cat."

But a spokesman for the Judicial Office at the Royal Courts of Justice, which issues statements on behalf of senior judges, said the pet had "had nothing to do with" the judgement allowing the man to stay.

Mrs May told the BBC her speech had been checked before it went out and that the case was "just one example" of where she believed the law was being misconstrued.

Human Rights Act

But she promised she would have "another look at the case", if it was proved to be wrong.

Asked about the reference, her Conservative cabinet colleague, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, told the BBC: "The cat surprised me. I cannot believe anyone was refused deportation just because they owned a cat."


  • Bolivian man fought deportation
  • Said he was in a "genuine" relationship with UK woman
  • They detailed their life, including their cat
  • Home Office lost because it did not follow its own rules
  • The cat was not a relevant factor

Later he told a fringe meeting that the case "certainly has nothing to do with the Human Rights Act and nothing to do with the European Convention on Human Rights".

And he said repealing the UK Human Rights Act would mean "all the cases go back to Strasbourg", adding: "I think it is a good idea that we remain adhering to the Convention on Human Rights and the cases are heard here by British judges."

Mr Clarke said he had not discussed with Mrs May her plan to change immigration rules to reduce the number of foreign criminals successfully using Article 8 to avoid deportation.

But he said it was "fine" to "remind people" about the scope of Article 8 as he believed there had to be an "extremely compelling" reason for convicted foreign criminals to remain in the UK.


For Labour, shadow policing minister Vernon Coaker said the government was not enforcing the rules that already existed.

"We have the ludicrous spectacle of the home secretary blaming cats whilst letting into the country a sheikh the home secretary thought she had banned and ending up paying him compensation as a result."

And Amnesty International said Mrs May's comments only fuelled "myths and misconceptions" about the Human Rights Act.

"That someone in Theresa May's position can be so misinformed as to parade out a story about someone being allowed to stay in Britain because of a cat is nothing short of alarming," the campaign group said.

"She urgently needs to get her facts straight."

The BBC News Channel's chief political correspondent Norman Smith said what had been intended as a major policy announcement had turned into a public relations shambles with Mrs May "overreaching herself" and Mr Clarke appearing out of the loop.

The case at the centre of the row occurred in 2008 and involved a Bolivian student who said he could show he had a proper permanent relationship with his partner and should not be deported.

The Bolivian man eventually won his case on appeal because the Home Office had ignored its own immigration rules on unmarried couples.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    We'll have to wait and see what these new guide lines state.

    I compleatly fail to see how respecting someone's right to a private and family life and protecting the UK are sperate things. The right to a private life is a fundermental part of our basic rights and liberites, so protecting that right is also part of protecting the national interest. The Human Rights Act needs to remain as it is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    When in Rome do as the Romans do etc.....I think a lot of these people are trying to do what the Romans did, ie invade and rule us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    Sounds like sense and will be popular with the voters. The worry is when they start messing with the human rights act, it's there to protect us all, mostly from the excesses of big business. No doubt the Tories would love to get rid of it, and what better way than using a smokescreen of immigrant criminals.

  • Comment number 194.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 193.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    This affected approx. 100 people last year.

    As a percentage of total population that is 0.00016%.

    Currently unemployment is 7.9%

    The percentage of people that live below the poverty line is 22%

    This is nothing more than a voter-pleasing soundbite that has no chance of actually being passed through Parliment and instead serves to distract from any of the real issues facing the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    Hurrah! Common sense has finally prevailed. It's about time OUR human rights were taken in to account instead of do-gooders constantly championing the 'rights' of foreign criminals. If they were really 'at risk' in their homeland, you'd think they would abide by the law in the country which has so charitably taken them in. Our society doesn't need these individuals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.


    "Do these people have no idea who the Human Rights Act works and all the benifits it was brought to some of the most vulnerable people in society?"

    This is not about taking away those rights it is about the deportation of criminal immigrants once their time is served not giving them a house and benefits to stay here.

    Pay attention please

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    Travelling abroad I have met many different poeple, Iraqis, and Afgahns amongst others. I have seen what some of these poeple are like and you would not like what I have seen. Some have stated to me that their intention is to make their way to the uk and this has concerned me. Our borders can be brached by a boat ride and an application for asylum. you do not know these strangers, you should!.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    @169. Lemog
    As a matter of interest Bill, do you, as a practicing christian, believe that homosexuality is wrong / a sin?

    I believe you have drifted off topic, however, I believe that as a practicing Christian and homosexual the Lord will forgive me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    163. Bill
    "All Laws derive from the Almighty"

    Whose almighty? Christian? Islam? Hindu? And what about the Buddhists who don't acknowledge a supreme deity? And how about the polytheistic cultures - do they get a say?

    And when you have sorted that out - which laws are you going to choose?

    Don't forget that man made god in his own image, so he gets to make the rules as well

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    If one flees an oppressive regime and one enters another country seeking shelter, one is a refugee and should be protected.
    If one creeps in to a country by the back door and then one commences to rob and rape, one is an invader and should be treated as such.

  • Comment number 185.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    migrants should be entitled to NOTHINg, unless they have paid into the tax system for a minimum. time to look after our own for a bloody change.

  • Comment number 183.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    post 130 by darren sheppard says the unemployed/immigrants/workers/dying are loosing their 'rights' please justify this comment?

    or is it your usual rant against the 'perceived rich'/tory's?

    this is simply about deporting convicted migrants/immigrants after they has served 'time'

    i'd guess 90%+ of uk nationals would agree with this common sense 'law'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    Here we go again, a senior tory criticising one of the most fundermental pieces of English law simply for the sake of a sound bite.

    Do these people have no idea who the Human Rights Act works and all the benifits it was brought to some of the most vulnerable people in society?

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    Maybe Mr Sheppard is on to something "a 3rd country perhaps". All illegals who cannot be returned to thier home nation should be returned to the country they last entered to gain access to the UK. This may well encourage nations to take border control more seriously and the individuals concerned would not be a burden on this nation causing the gateway states will start to consider thier actions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    Chip the duck, I'm fascinated by your logic.

    If we can leave the EU, then we can equally dump the European laws on human rights. I'm quite sure Greece will dump some if not all EU laws if they leave.

    More to the point, we can negotiate a change to the treaty that changes emphasis or priorities with relatively little difficulty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.


    You cannot separate Religion from the the Law. All Laws derive from the Almighty. Man merely has a duty to obey them

    Are you David Icke by any chance ???

    Thats the thing - we need to seperate Religion from the Law for the good of the country otherwise it is just going to end up a mess of conflicting rules to suit each different religion and what they have been 'told' by their 'God'


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