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.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    While there are some benefits to the Human Rights Laws, some parts have been abused by criminals, foreign religious radicals and benefits tourists - its our tax money paying for their rights and that is wrong in principle and wrong in practice. If you want to fund these scroungers, pay them out of your pocket yourself, dont impose your largesse principles on my tax bill.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Yeah, yeah. Let me guess, these proposals will be introduced in 2015


  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    This is so right - come on T. May and DC - get this through together with a British Bill of Rights. It is the collective of Britain whose interests should be put first not individuals who have been welcomed to the shores from elsewhere.

    Fully support this move - Libdems can fall in line or fall by the wayside as far as I am concerned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Dont scrap the human rights laws, Stop the shady law firms who help the criminals and terrorist stay in the U.K. get the Law society to do the job ,not the government, There are bad apples in every box.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    The Human Rights Act has been an unmittigated disaster which has been twisted by undeserving people and their solicitors. The story of Aso Mohammed Ibrahim is a prime example. A callous criminal who takes the daughter away from a family forever only to have children himself before being deported so that he can claim a right to stay here and be with HIS family! Disgusting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.


  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    "British jobs for British workers", says Gordon Brown. "British jails for British prisoners", says Theresa May. Good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I'm sure the legal aid funded lawyers are already rubbing thier hands at the thought of the money (your tax) they will make protecting their poor misunderstood clients from this. At the moment, if your an EU citizen & a known murderer, child molester, or anything like that, you still have free right of entry to the UK - what madness was it to sign up to that (Mr Blair) part of the EU agreement?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    This is excellent news. This isn't about overturning human rights, far from it - this is about stopping people who come here illegally, commit terrible crimes and then cannot be sent back to their country of origin because they claim they have a 'right to family life'.

    Well I have a right to be safe from foreign criminals who have come here illegally.

    It's time to put Britain first.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    "And about time too!
    For far too long people have got away with this".

    I agree, but Theresa May tends to be big on mouth & short on delivery.
    It's the Conference season again & don't we know it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    If Nick Clegg has made up his mind, instead of sending the report to him, send it to the people, let's see what their opinion is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Fully support this move.
    It just shows how the HRA is abused by criminals and their lawyers (usually paid by us).
    People who have commited very bad crimes are at large in OUR country because of the HRA - disgrace

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    FINALLY - a bit of common sense, and while they are at changing the laws, lets add foreign clerics and benefits tourists to the list.

    NuLabour sold us out - time to regain our sovereignty from the unelected unaccountable faceless bureaucrats in the EU passing laws we did not ask for, did not want, and which are costing us a fortune - as well as making us the benefits country of choice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    What bothers me is that this Act causes problems for the government because it makes it obey it's own rules. Why does that upset people? Without a human rights act how do we hold government accountable in the courts?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I see this as a positive move. Foreigners living in the UK need to understand that they are welcome here provided that they do not harm society. When that rule is broken then deportation is a clear and visible protection of our society. The present situation sacrifices all of us for the protection of the undeserving and is very hard to defend in present circumstances

  • Comment number 2.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    And about time too!

    For far too long people have got away with this.


Page 34 of 34


More Politics stories



Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.