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Friday, 7 October 2011

#catgate flap for UK government turning sour for gay couple at centre of it

Pic by @IamHappyToast
By Paul Canning

Since the UK Home Secretary Theresa May uttered those hostage to fortune words on Tuesday 4 October at the Conservative Party Conference ".. and I am not making this up" the British media and both opponents of the government as well as some within her own party have been making hay with her subsequent error - the supposed 'illegal immigrant' who could not be deported because "he had a pet cat".

Her claim, that a foreigner had been allowed to stay in the UK because of the human rights issues involved with owning a cat, was literally laughed at by one of her colleagues - the Justice Secretary Ken Clarke - and led to endless pussy-related headline and pictures like the one above, which a Labour MP happily retweeted. Prime Minister Cameron even made a joke about it in his speech winding up the conference.

The claim in a speech was, May admitted, sourced solely from newspaper headlines, which formed a nice circle coming back to bite the Home Office in the proverbial as the Home Office's PR people are well known for producing tabloid headline friendly stories showing them 'cracking down' on 'illegal immigrants'.

#catgate dates back to a Sunday Telegraph article from 17 October 2009 which had the headline 'Immigrant allowed to stay because of pet cat'. The following day, the Mail, Express, Sun and Star all ran the story, the Express going with the headline 'Got a cat? OK, you can stay'.

The story was then repeated by columnists including Richard Littlejohn, Amanda Platell, Sue Carroll and Eamonn Holmes.

But despite the comprehensive debunking, the Judicial Communications Office issued a statement literally minutes after May's speech, those tabloids are refusing to give up and on Thursday 6 October one leading producer of stories about 'benefits claiming illegal immigrants' The Daily Mail hit back with a front page claim that - yes - this 'illegal' Bolivian was staying for precisely the reason May claimed he was. And, for no particular reason, they 'out' the couple involved as gay.

They quoted at length from the judgment of an Immigration judge to try and prove their point but, of course, they were still getting it wrong and twisting quotes to fit their narrative.

Barrister Adam Wagner comprehensively debunks the Mail on the UK Human Rights Blog.

Wagner writes that "on any reading, the judgment [the Mail cites] does not support the proposition the Home Secretary made in her speech." And he points out the the cited judgment is irrelevant anyway as it was superseded. In that final judgment the Home Office's case was thrown out:
"For entirely separate (to the human rights claim) reasons relating to the UK Border Agency’s failure to follow its own policy, means that the cat issue did not have to be considered and was therefore rendered wholly irrelevant to the final decision not to deport the man."
The Bolivian man could not be deported because it was UK policy to allow someone in a four-year relationship, as he was, to stay. The Home Office had, er, forgotten that policy. The judge did not. The cat came up in a minor role as evidence introduced by a witness for the relationship and the judge made a couple of jokes about it, including one about the cat not having to adapt to Bolivian mice.

The judge said:
"I do not consider that it would be reasonable for the appellant’s partner to move to Bolivia to live with him. There are several considerations that justify this conclusion. The appellant’s counsel addressed these matters in his submissions. The most important perhaps is the condition of the appellant’s partner’s father. The evidence of this appellant’s partner and his siblings is that their father is in a condition that he is not expected to recover from. They stated that a family decision has been taken to give their father collective support as a family and that the support as a family and that the support that the appellant’s partner would give is an integral part of that effort. It would be distressing to the appellant’s partner’s [sic] if he were to have to leave the United Kingdom having regard to his father’s condition."

"I find however that the evidence of the appellant’s friends and of his partner’s siblings is persuasive and telling. In my view it attests to the strong quality of the relationship between the appellant and his partner."
The lawyer involved, Barry O'Leary, also issued a statement pointing out that:
"Their ownership of a cat was just one detail amongst many given to demonstrate the genuine nature of their relationship."
O'Leary also pointed out that:
"It was, in fact, the official acting on behalf of the Home Secretary who, when writing the letter of refusal, stated that the cat could relocate to Bolivia and cope with the quality of life there. This statement was not in response to any argument put forward by this firm or my client (and was, frankly, rather mischievous on behalf of the official)."
The Mail would appear to have none of this though. Facts mean nothing. Ad hominem is their business model.

At the end of their article is an appeal for information on the couple and a phone number. They'll pay some 'friend' of the couple to give them dirt.



Update: The Daily Torygraph has named the Bolivian, and repeated the falsehood about the centrality of the cat to him staying in the UK.
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