Catgate: the Mail wrong to claim cat was "key reason" in judgement

6 October 2011

"Never let the facts get in the way of a good story," Mark Twain famously quipped.

Here at Full Fact, you won't be surprised to learn that we've never set much store by this train of thought. However, it seems not everyone in the media entirely agrees with us.

When media reports first surfaced back in 2009 that a Bolivian immigrant had dodged deportation because of his pet cat, a number of factcheckers found otherwise.

When the story reappeared in the Daily Star earlier this year, we at Full Fact gave it a thorough debunking.

However, when the Home Secretary Theresa May used the case in her Conservative Party conference speech this week, the problems with the analogy were highlighted not only on this site, but across the national media.

At the time, we hoped "given the wide coverage given to Ms May's claim, that by referencing this story the Home Secretary may have made a significant contribution to taking it out of circulation once and for all."

In retrospect, this looks to have been wishful thinking.

The Daily Mail was one of those papers that originally reported the story in 2009. Today the paper has run a front page splash claiming to have unearthed the "truth behind the Tory catfight."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the 'truth' it claims to have found is that there was nothing wrong with its reporting in the first place.

According to the paper: "The human rights ruling, obtained by the Daily Mail, vindicates Home Secretary Theresa May...[who] claimed that the cat, Maya, was a key reason behind the decision to let the man, a Bolivian national, stay in Britain, citing it as an example of how the Human Rights Act has been badly applied by judges."


So what is this new evidence that might give hope to cat-loving immigrants across the country?

It is the ruling made at the original Tribunal by Judge Devittie, freely available from the Judiciary and uploaded in full below.

As the Mail points out, this judgement does note that: "The evidence concerning the joint acquisition of Maya by the appellant and his partner reinforces my conclusion on the strength and quality of the family life that [the] appellant and his partner enjoy."

However this does not mean that it was relevant to the decision to allow him to stay, let alone that it was the "key reason", as the Mail concludes.

In fact, as the Mail admits some way down its piece — on paragraph 19 to be precise — Judge Devittie's decision was appealed by the Home Office. Had the argument about the cat been relevant to the case, it would have had to be upheld by this appeal. Unfortunately for the Mail, it found that it was "immaterial" to the decision.

The basis for the Bolivian man's case stood on the application of DP3/96, a piece of law which allows for illegal immigrants to remain because they have entered into a "genuine and subsisting relationship akin to marriage" with another person who has lived in the country for at least two years.

It seems likely that even the Mail would agree that this is an institution that a man is unlikely to enter into with his cat.

Rather, the cat was only brought into the case as evidence that such a relationship did indeed exist between the man and his partner.

As Barry O'Leary, who represented the man at the Tribunal made clear in a statement:  

"The case referred to was not decided on the basis of ownership of a cat. It was decided on the basis of a Home Office policy which the Home Office themselves had failed to apply. This was accepted by the Home Office before the Immigration Judge. The Home Office agreed the appeal should be allowed. The ownership of a cat was immaterial. Any press reports to the contrary are not based on fact."

  As if this was not enough, the Judiciary itself put out a statement in 2009 which noted that:

"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."

To us this would seem fairly conclusive. However we can but lay out the facts and allow you, dear reader, to draw your own conclusions. So below is a copy of the original ruling by Judge Devittie, while the subsequent appeal ruling can be found here (courtesy of David Allen Green at the New Statesman).

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