The claim

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

Theresa May, Home Secretary, Conservative Party Conference, 4 October 2011

The background

Calling for sanity in the UK’s immigration system, Theresa May said the Human Rights Act “needs to go”.

Listing ludicrous examples, she said one man was allowed to stay because he had a cat.

But is there a whisker of truth to it? Ken Clarke apparently doesn’t think so – he’s bet Mrs May she’s wrong.

Has he won the bet? FactCheck gets its claws out.

The analysis

Mrs May said today the right to a family life was not “absolute” and could not be allowed to “drive a coach and horses through our immigration system”.

So who is this cat-lover taking liberties? According to a story by the Press Association, in 2009 a Bolivian man who came to the UK as a student cited cat ownership as one of the “many details” to prove the long term nature of his relationship with his girlfriend – as part of his legal battle to stay in the country.

His solicitor Barry O’Leary however, insisted that his client had “never” argued that he should be allowed to stay on the grounds of the cat. And the decision to allow him to stay wasn’t granted on that basis either.

Mr O’Leary said: “We were never arguing on the basis that the cat was material. We argued that there is a Home Office policy they should have applied in this case because of the long term nature of the couple’s relationship.

“The immigration judge found that was the reason the appeal should be allowed.”

Giving her judgment against the Home Office appeal, senior immigration judge Judith Gleeson joked that the cat “need no longer fear having to adapt to Bolivian mice”.

A spokesperson for the Judicial Office told FactCheck: “This was a case in which the Home Office conceded that they had mistakenly failed to apply their own policy – applying at that time to that appellant – for dealing with unmarried partners of people settled in the UK.

“That was the basis for the decision to uphold the original tribunal decision – the cat had nothing to do with the decision.”

The verdict

Theresa May appears to have fallen for some classic Daily Mail spin (here’s the Mail’s version of the story).

Owning a pet cat was evidence of the immigrant’s long-term relationship with his girlfriend – but it was his relationship with his girlfriend – not the cat – that was being scrutinised as a reason to stay in the country.

FactCheck also understands that the man’s case had nothing to do with the Human Rights Act. The immigration judge allowed him to appeal on the basis of a former Home Office policy – as the Judicial Office confirmed to FactCheck. They also confirmed the decision had nothing to do with the cat.

Photographs of cats and immigrants, together or not, are Daily Mail gold. But Mrs May shouldn’t believe everything she reads in the tabloids.

By Emma Thelwell

Read more – FactCheck: Theresa May’s human wrongs

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