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 237.

    You`re right, I had drifted off topic so thank you for taking the time to respond to my curiosity. As a non christian I am sorry that you feel the need to be forgiven for who you are and though our views on the world seem to be poles apart, I wish you well

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    I do not normally agree with anything said by the Tories, but on this occasion I do. Any foreigner convicted of a crime in the UK should not be able to use his/her family as a right to stay and avoid deportation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.


    Your rights as a law obiding British citizen are protected, under the HRA.

    If by rights you mean not being expolited by people in authority, then yes, your rights are protected by the HRA. If by rights you mean having the right to look down on people in genuine need in a bigoted and prejudicial way, those 'rights' are not protected under the HRA. That's the way it should stay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    @192 - agree.

    The main talking points have been bin rounds,speeds on motorways and get rid of a tiny minority of immigrants

    Surely everyone on here sees through the political soundbites and realises that

    1. It probably wont happen
    2. It is highly unlikely to affect their lives
    3. This will not aid the economy in the slightest

    But George has thought of all possibilities...

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    At school I was a member of the swimming life savers club.
    A major principle which we were taught when life saving is that YOU DON'T PUT YOUR OWN LIFE INTO OBVIOUS DANGER!!. That means if the person you are trying to save is acting in an unacceptable manner you don't save them. It's a tough but good principle which need to be reflected in all humanitarian legislation/actions. HRA Included !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    How many people born in the UK would go abroad, commit a crime and then expect preferential traetment?

    huge numbers, & when they do it in countries that dont belong to or enforce Human Rights treaties they get a big shock.
    That's why the government pay for public information adverts to be broadcasted about it

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    214 Bill.

    Nice point. I trust Spain will treat them accordingly, or perhaps they already do. I also hope Spain welcomes them back next summer. God help us if they spend 2 weeks trashing England rather than just every Saturday night!

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    What's more pertinent is that Cameron has said he won't sanction a referendum on EU Membership. How many low-skilled/unskilled migrant workers from the EU occupy jobs here? The wave of EU immigration is the real problem. Give us a vote, "in or out" or seriously start re-negotiating border control laws with the EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    Go Norway, let's go the way of Norway, damned good Idea!.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    off topic i know but i'm sure i speak for others who run 'foul' of faceless moderators with their own 'political agenda'

    so, who is this 'editor' who picks and chooses on a personal whim?

    who are the other faceless bureaucrats whose salary we pay?

    put up your profiles - no need for a photograph

    you have 'our' details but we have none of yours!

  • Comment number 227.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    This is long overdue.

    Article 8 makes a mockery of common sense and our right to protect ourselves.

    Article 8 is also the basis for arranged marriages, families of residents moving to the UK and one of the reasons why illegal immigrants either get married in the UK or have children.

    It simply drives a coach and horses through our immigration system and should be removed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    If a visitor comes to this country and commits a crime then their HR are lost by default. If their crime means deportation, to wherever they come from - so be it. If it is to face torture and so on, then so be it.

    Nobody, but nobody, made them commit a crime in the first place. The rights of victims must always be paramount - something liberal do-gooders would do well to remember!

  • Comment number 224.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    People who wants to come here should really contribute to the charitable work,to understand British rules and regulations.Some of them'd not even speak single English.Understanding about this culture is important because it will help their communications, so they know which one is right& wrong. for ex: some countries we don't need food&hygine,health &safety certificate to open a takeaway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    All non-UK convicted criminals including terrorists & would be terrorists - ie those who threaten the Human Rights of law abiding UK citizens - should be thrown out of this country with no appeal rights and no UK marriage get out.
    The way that the interpretation of the HRA works puts the Human Rights of the majority of UK citizens at risk.
    What are their motives of those who oppose this view?

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    Ok, so there is a mismatch between the HRA and not having some kind of Citizenship Act, where everyone accepts that you loose some parts of the HRA when you commit a crime.

    Sort that bit, and even the LibDems can't complain....

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    they can obey the laws like the rest of us, or suffer the consequences.

    Like for instance a prison sentence? It seems rather unfair to punish someone with a custodial sentence and then kick them out of the country, especially if they have made a life here. Should their children also be punished for these crimes?

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    Here in the UK, we have not even been clever enough to distinguish between economic migrants and bonafide asylum seekers. Surely there should be a mechanism for differentiating between the two?

    Are asylum seekers that have made their way to the UK across europe, through countless western democratic countries, true asylum seekers? Perhaps not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.


    Your other points are extremely valid but we need to sort out these anomalies before we can start to get this country sorted out.
    We have almost 8% unemployed but still we let Tom Dick & Harry in to live and work here.......I find that strange
    We have people living in poverty but still we allow people in with no means of supporting themselves.......I find that strange


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