Cat Litter

Business - September 28th, 2010
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by Ian de Stains OBE

Of late the British tabloids have been frothing at their fonts; their readers have been taking to the ‘have your say’ sites on the web, clamoring for blood, revenge and more. What, pray, was the cause of this uprising of public indignation? Two brothers locked in a family-splitting battle for the leadership of the decimated Labor Party, perhaps? Or the fact that the close-to-bankrupt, “doing everything I can to slash my expenses,” Duchess of York was photographed on her eighth exotic overseas trip of the summer? Surely not that David and Samantha Cameron (holidaying at home in the UK) had welcomed their fourth child into the world, albeit earlier than expected? No, the reason for all the sound and fury can be summed up in two words: Mary Bale.

In a curious echo of the Susan Boyle saga, this middle-aged, frumpish spinster’s name and image were splashed across the papers and all over YouTube. But whereas Subo’s outing was a cause for joy and celebration, Maba’s was far from it. She’s been dubbed the most hated woman in England.

Cities in the UK have one of the highest densities of CCT surveillance cameras in the world. One such camera happened to record Ms. Bale strolling along a street near her home. We see her stop to stroke a tabby cat sitting on a wall and then, after looking carefully around her to see if anyone was about, she grabs the kitty by the scruff of her neck and drops her in a rubbish bin, closing the lid and trapping the cat inside for a hot and no doubt distressing 15 hours before someone heard her cries for help and returned her to her relieved and grateful owners.

The Brits are a nation of animal lovers, so this bizarre act was bound to provoke a strong reaction. It was made worse by the fact that when apprehended, Ms. Bale said that she couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. “I thought it would be funny,” she said. “After all, it’s only a cat.”

While the UK’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals considers whether to prosecute (and their powers to do so are great), the court of public opinion has already announced its verdict. Several clients of the Royal Bank of Scotland—where the disgraced Ms. Bale works in customer service—have called for her dismissal, along with threats to close their accounts if she is retained. There have even been death threats, which is a sad sign that the lunatic fringe is always ready to latch onto any and every opportunity to raise its ugly head. The most vocal commentators call for her to be shut in a trash can herself for 15 hours to see how funny she thinks it is then. An eye for an eye? I thought we shunned all that.

Ian de Stains is the executive director of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan. The views and opinions expressed in this column are strictly his own and are not necessarily endorsed or shared by the Chamber.