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 497.

    My point is that without some basic backstops, you are at the mercy of whatever laws the ruling executive of the time decides to pass. See The Nuremberg Laws of 1930s Germany for example.

    But, of course, we are much too sensible a country to demonise a section of society and remove all their rights.

    I hope....

  • rate this

    Comment number 496.

    I bet some people will make a big deal about May's possible small error about THAT CATt, whilst ignoring the absolutley massive error THEY made in supporting the mass immigration that's massively expanded our population, meaning urban sprawl, overcrowding, pressure on jobs, wages, services and housing, terrorism etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 495.

    As far as I am aware it's not about deporting someone for getting a parking ticket, a speeding fine or dropping a cold chip (littering).
    It is about deporting murderers, rapists, child abusers, violent thugs, career burglars and the like, people that quite frankly the country is better off getting rid of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 494.

    You are being deliberately obtuse, either that or you are stupid. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and say obtuse. Right, here's my last offer.
    If you came to the UK with a bag of heroin....
    Contrary to your belief, we should not allow you to enter if you are breaking the law on prohibited items. It's like this in most countries, do you get my point now ? It's called the law

  • rate this

    Comment number 493.

    487. Doozie
    The problem is these people are afraid of criminals
    I very seriously doubt whether judges and police are afraid of criminals, 99.9% of them anyway. I am uncertain as to why the law has been interpreted the way it has by our judiciary. Article 8 clearly waives the right to prevent disorder or crime or public safety grounds. Surely this justifies deporting foreign criminals?

  • rate this

    Comment number 492.

    Teresa May illustrates the worst traits of populist politicians, who bend the truth to fit in with their own, ill-informed opinions. It seems to be impossible to have a rational discussion about the HRA when someone as senior as the Home Secretary comes out with such drivel.
    btw, the HRA and the ECHR have nothing to do with the EU,

  • rate this

    Comment number 491.

    Please explain a good reason why any of those should deserve the right to reside in this country once their sentence is complete

    The prison sentence is the punishment for their crime, you might as well ask why anyone has the right to return to society after their sentence is complete. If you are going to deport someone that should be the punishment not both.

  • rate this

    Comment number 490.

    Criminal is a pejorative term ... we are really talking about are sinners in need of redemption, forgiveness and integration into a tolerant multi cultural society.
    Perhaps you would be willing to provide housing, financial support and sustenance to a few of these 'sinners' and show them the error of their ways.

    Just hope your family and property would remain inviolate though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 489.

    Great...well done T.May. Now you blame cats and the judiciary for the HR act. What a load of tripe. You have the power to do something about the HR act, rather than just spout more hot air. Any sign of any action on anything constructive from this government? Didn't think so...

  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    @486. whowillwevotefornow
    ..........However Mrs May cheapens the arguement when she lies about convicted criminals being allowed to stay to look after their cat. really!!!!!!!!

    I think this cat story is a red herring and we are at risk of going down a rabbit hole discussing it at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 487.

    Ref #478. mrwobbles
    Article 8 illegal immigrants

    that very same article states the right can be waived for "national security, public safety... for the prevention of disroder or crime.

    The problem is these people are afraid of criminals (they tend to violent on them)
    and where most of judges,lawyers and police be without criminals : unemployed !
    Criminals are a cash ( very fat) cow !

  • rate this

    Comment number 486.

    On the face of it this seems a Tory Policy I could agree with.

    However Mrs May cheapens the arguement when she lies about convicted criminals being allowed to stay to look after their cat. really!!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    #464 Its a good job we don't live in germany in the forty's then. You're point is?This is UK 2011 and we have more lawyers than you can shake a stick at and more liberals than La La Land. Trying to get you guys to see common sense is like swimming in treacle and half of you are on the take from this little merrygoround anyway. Adolph didn't do courts just genocide and murder.

  • rate this

    Comment number 484.

    'The Prayer Of the Oppressed' a book by Hamza Yusuf,recommened reading for all oppressive leaders & dictators,Maggie May would do well to read the above book,it does'nt ask that enemies be destoyed it simply asks they be halted in thier course of harm & indifference to others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 483.

    This latest quote from Teresa May (about the cat) shows the dismally low level to which many politicians will sink to push a sound bite. to appeal to the unintelligent and biased make me fume. Don't get me wrong there are good arguments for some change in emphasis on removing illegal or criminally convicted non UK-passport holders from this country - but producing this drivel is odious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 482.

    You talk as though the people who oppose the idea of Nigerian rapists being allowed to stay here are the ones with the explaining to do. You' and the other Guardianistas, are wrong.
    Where have I stated that these people should be allowed to stay here?

    I have consistently said that it is not the HRA that is at fault, but British judges interpretation of the HRA.

  • rate this

    Comment number 481.

    @466. Rundle.
    I was always taught that "Ignorance (of the law) is no defence."
    The family are innocent, but they are not being deported are they?
    Nothing stops them emigrating to the country the other is deported to.
    It all boils down to a persons choice. "Which is more important, committing the crime or keeping the family life?"
    Chose crime, illegal immigrant , get deported. Simples.

  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    What annoys me about this debate on the HRA is the oft-repeated mantra of the tories that "it protects the wrong people". Well, I'm sorry, but basic human rights apply to everyone in equal measure; if you start to pick and choose, you open yourself up to claims of discrimination. Repealing the HRA and replacing it with a Bill of Rights seems to me to be an enormous waste of time, effort and money.

  • Comment number 479.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    469. teedoff
    The part of the story I picked up on is that Article 8 is successfully used by illegal immigrants
    Which is strange since that very same article states the right can be waived for "national security, public safety... for the prevention of disroder or crime." So why it has been applied this way baffles me. Question for the judges that apply it more than the efficacy of the law.


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