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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Revealed: The moggie that kept a Bolivian in Britain (not to mention launching the catfight that split the Cabinet)

By Nick Fagge, Neil Sears and Ryan Kisiel

The cat is finally out of the bag.

This is the feline at the centre of the immigration row which has split the Cabinet.

Her name is Maya, and it was her joint ownership by Bolivian Camilo Soria Avila and his British partner Frank Trew which helped persuade judges that Mr Soria should be allowed to remain in Britain.

Mr Soria, 36, stayed illegally in Britain for more than two years after his student visa expired, coming to the attention of the authorities when he was accused of shoplifting.

But he fought off a Home Office move to deport him, arguing that his joint ownership of Maya with Mr Trew, 49, a librarian and Oxford graduate, showed the seriousness of their relationship.

The couple live together in a rented £220,000 flat in south London – and are intending to enter into a civil partnership in May or June next year.

Mr Soria’s current leave to remain in Britain expires in 2012, but if the couple are in a civil partnership he will have the strongest possible case under immigration rules to stay in Britain.

Maya is one of eight cats now owned by the couple and wears a pink collar bearing her name.

Yesterday, while the couple declined to comment, she could be seen stalking the window sills of their home.

Partners: Bolivian immigrant Mr Soria (left) with British librarian Frank Trew

The judgment on the case is packed with detail about the importance of the cat, including criticism of the Home Office for failing to consider how Maya – which has since had a litter of several kittens – could adapt to a lower standard of living in South America.

It is powerful vindication of Home Secretary Theresa May’s claim to the Conservative Party conference that the then-unnamed illegal immigrant had avoided deportation under the Human Rights Act because he had a pet cat.

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke has since angered his party by deriding her claim of the cat’s importance to the case as ‘laughable’ and ‘complete nonsense’.

Closer analysis of the judgment also shows that Mr Soria’s lawyers argued it would be against the Bolivian’s human rights to relocate to his homeland with Mr Trew because the Briton was so dedicated to his dying father.

Made in Britain: Maya in her younger days, before she found herself at the centre of an immigration row between Ken Clarke and Theresa May

Claws out: Ken Clarke and Theresa May rowed over the interpretation of the cat's role in Mr Soria's case

Mr Soria was a regular presence at gatherings of his lover’s family, immigration judges were assured. The story behind Catgate begins in July 2002, when Mr Soria, from the Bolivian capital La Paz, arrived in London on a student visa with leave to remain in the UK to study for two years and four months.

It was in 2004 that the Bolivian, who works as a building manager, claims to have embarked on his relationship with Mr Trew.

No effort was made to deal with Mr Soria until his arrest for alleged shoplifting.

No charges were brought but he was identified as an illegal over-stayer, and served with a notice to quit Britain. He appealed and in September 2008 won his fight against being kicked out.

Cat's cradle: The south London ground floor flat of Mr Soria and celebrity moggie Maya (black door)

Paws for thought: Maya the politicat is caught in the middle of the Conservative party row

Immigration Judge James Devittie devoted a substantial part of his judgment to the issue of the cat.

While the Home Office ‘considered that the cat could adapt to life abroad with her owners’, the judge suggested that a decrease in Maya’s quality of life in Bolivia was a factor to consider.

He accepted arguments that it would be unreasonable to expect Mr Trew to move to Bolivia, saying the most important factor was ‘the evidence of Mr Trew’s partner and his siblings that their father is in a condition he is not expected to recover from’.

The Home Office appealed against the decision, partly because it placed ‘inappropriate weight of the appellant having to leave behind not only his partner but also their joint cat’.

But it lost again two months later, on grounds unrelated to the cat.

Having kittens: Maya (pictured with her first litter) has struck discord into the heart of the Government

A judge found in favour of Mr Soria because officials had not followed immigration rules correctly when deciding the case, adding: ‘Maya need no longer fear having to adapt to Bolivian mice.’

Mr Trew’s mother, Veronica, who lives in Bradley Stoke, South Gloucestershire, said her son rarely saw his father in the years before his death last year.

‘He came on a couple of visits, but that was it. Frank lives in London, I don’t know where. I’ve met his boyfriend once.

‘My husband had Alzheimer’s and he was in a home in Bristol for five years. Frank and him weren’t that close.

‘Years ago he got me to write a letter on how sick his father was but I honestly can’t remember what it was for or why I had to write it. It was to some tribunal or court.’



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