Liz Hoggard: Tough on the causes of cat crime

Share
Related Topics

So where do you stand on Catgate? Should Mary Bale, the Coventry woman who threw four-year-old tabby Lola into a wheelie bin, be strung up? Sectioned? Forced to make a public apology on YouTube (the modern equivalent of the medieval stocks). Or is the public outcry – Bale has received death threats – a massive over-reaction?

I adore cats. I own three, all of them totally indulged (they eat gourmet cat food, sit on the furniture). Outside the door are 10 feral bruisers who I'm trying not to feed too much. I have Celia Hammond rescue cats on speed dial. It's brilliant to have a national outcry about animal cruelty. Sometimes I wonder if we really are a nation of pet-lovers any more.

Of course we want the perpetrator "punished", in the form of a fine or community service. The cat survived – but it's a symbolic crime that deserves firm action. And yet. And yet. Part of me is scared by the mob fury (look at how Facebook fans turned Raoul Moat into a modern-day Robin Hood). We all know self-righteous indignation can turn ugly.

Maybe it's a fear of casting the first stone. Most people are guilty of silly, random acts. I would never ever throw a cat in a bin, assuming it could climb out. But anger, loneliness, and frustration are emotional drivers. Ms Bale originally told a journalist: "I did it as a joke. I never thought it would be trapped, I expected it to wriggle out." Adding unwisely, "I don't know what the fuss is about. It's just a cat."

It is never just a cat, lady. For many of us cats are friends, proto-lovers, substitute children. It's not a good fight to pick. But it's true that cats don't work on the same clock. If they want affection or food or shelter, they expect us to get with the programme. Can the same instinct that makes us love a cat suddenly make us furious about their vulnerability, their essential neediness?

Can you be jealous of a creature who – in a loving, domestic environment – has all its needs met? If perhaps you, an adult, don't. I can hardly bear to think about it. But I suspect we need to. If we're to understand the psychological triggers for cruelty.

Mary Bale is an unusual villain. An unmarried bank worker, she sings in the church choir, lives with elderly parents. In the CCTV footage she looks older than 45. I'm fighting not to make assumptions here, but maybe her life is not as fulfilled as it could be?

A photograph of her in 2007 has emerged from a church choir dinner (presumably one of her few outings). The sequinned blouse, salt-and-pepper hair and awkward dash of lipstick don't scream animal-abuser. According to her mother, she was under strain because her father is critically ill in hospital. Maybe the very moment that she met the cat she needed something to feel powerful over. Yesterday she apologised for her actions, citing "a split-second of misjudgement that has got completely out of control".

The semiotics of Mary Bale are endlessly fascinating. Her age. The class she comes from. Certainly the story would never have had the same resonance if the perpetrator had been a teenage boy. But you know who she reminds me of? Gillian Duffy, the woman who tackled Gordon Brown during the election. Both are women we don't often see on the front pages of newspapers – older, unadorned, ordinary women caught up in extraordinary circumstances.

Mrs Duffy was of course fêted as the emblem of good sense, her wardrobe and brusque diction celebrated. Columnists queued up to claim her as The Great British Aunt or Grandmother. Mary Bale is another rabbit caught in the headlights. She's not media-sophisticated. She's only just grasping the magnitude of her actions. And her life is unravelling.

Can't we try and understand a little more? Or at least take our collective anger, that great palpable force, and use it to campaign against animal cruelty. And – just as importantly – to campaign against child cruelty in this country. Outrage is a worthy instinct. But let's switch off Facebook and do something different.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
Queen Elizabeth II with members of the Order of Merit  

Either the Queen thinks that only one in 24 Britons are women, or her Order of Merit is appallingly backward

Janet Street-Porter
Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...