MR. MASON AND THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE TRIMMED TAIL (1907)
This account has been distilled from a number of publications, in particular the Bradford Daily Telegraph (Tuesday 22nd January, 1907), Yorkshire Evening Post, Globe, Daily Telegraph & Courier (London), Yorkshire Evening Post (Wednesday 23rd January 1907), the Morning Post (23rd & 24th January, 1907) and many others. It even appeared in The Charlotte News (North Carolina) and the El Paso Herald (Texas). The newspapers described it along the lines of “Fancier’s Libel Action. The Tail of a Cat, Exhibitor and Bradford Judge. A Remarkable and Humorous Case. “
Before Mr. Justice Kennedy and special jury in the King’s Bench Division yesterday Mrs. Isabel Eugenie Wilson, residing at Sylvan-road, Upper Norwood, a well-known breeder and exhibitor of cats, sued Mr. T. B. Mason to recover damages for two alleged libels and one slander. The defendant denied that the words complained of bore the meaning which had been put upon them, and pleaded privilege. Mr. Hugh Fraser and Mr. Sawrey-Cookson (instructed by Messrs. Scatliff) appeared for the plaintiff ; Mr. C. E. Jones (instructed by Messrs. Jaques and Co.) for the defendant ; and Mr. Clarke Hall (instructed by Mr. Wheeler) for the National Cat Club.
The defendant, Mr. T. Mason, of Idle, was a well-known judge of the smaller varieties of livestock including cats. He was also connected with the well-known fanciers’ paper, “Fur and Feather,” published at Idle. The action had its origin in the tail of a cat. The plaintiff was Mrs. Wilson, of Upper Norwood, a cat fancier and a frequent exhibitor at cat shows. The gist of the complaint was that Mr. Mason had written in his show report in “Fur and Feather,” that at the Bath Cat Show he had disqualified Mrs. Wilson’s cat for alleged trimming of tail – something that other cat fanciers would interpret as “faking” or cheating.
Mr. Hugh Fraser opened the case for the plaintiff. He admitted that though the case had a serious aspect, it also had a humorous side which appealed even to a Scot like himself. Mrs. Wilson, he said, had been very much upset at the slander. It all happened at Bath, where Mrs. Wilson had a number of exhibits at the Southern Counties Club Show on January 11th last year (1906). The show was held under the auspices of the Southern Counties Cat Club, and it was subject to the rules of the National Cat Club, which, he said for the benefit of those unversed in cat fancy matters, “I understand is a sort of kennel club as regards cats.”
BACKGROUND TO THE CASE
One of the plaintiff’s exhibits, a female Persian kitten, “Evelyn of Arundale,’’ was exhibited in Class 7 and pen No. 63. Mr Mason, who was judging that class, did not merely enter on his slip that the kitten was disqualified. He wrote “Disqualified – cut tail.” That slip was conspicuously displayed. That was a very serious matter, because it implied that Mrs. Wilson had trimmed the tail with a view to cheating. She was naturally offended and as soon as she saw it she rushed off to the secretary of the show. She had the cat examined by the veterinary surgeon of the club and explained to them, and subsequently to the committee of the club that the cat had singed its tail at a gas stove while romping with another. The veterinary surgeon gave a certificate that the injury might have been caused by a burn, and the committee while upholding the disqualification, accepted the explanation. Mr. Sewell, the eminent veterinary surgeon in London, later examined the cat's tail, and certified that he could not detect any blunt hairs as if cut, but found some crimped and others slightly bulbous as if burned.
In his account of the show, which appeared in a journal entitled “Fur and Feather,” the defendant wrote: “In judging the female Chinchillas Mr. Mason disqualified Pen 63, Mrs. George Wilson’s Evelyn of Arundale, for alleged trimming of tail. The committee of the show, with the veterinary, Mr. Tonar, examined the cat, and having heard the explanation of Mrs. Wilson, they decided to uphold Mr. Mason’s disqualification. As the show was under the National Cat Club rules this matter will have to come before the committee. So we think until they settle the matter we need only give the bare facts of the case.” Counsel asked if anything could be more unfair, in face of committee’s resolution that the disfigurement might have been an accident? The report did not mention of Mr. Tonar’s certificate and, therefore, led people to infer that Mrs. Wilson had trimmed the cat’s tail. Mrs. Wilson wrote straightaway to that paper to give her account of what had actually transpired.
A week later Mr. Mason responded in the paper: “After the National Cat Club has given a verdict in this case I shall reply to Mrs. George Wilson’s letter of last week in regard to this matter.” When the matter came before the Committee of the National Cat Club that body accepted the vet’s opinion and exonerated the lady.
Later on Mrs. Wilson sent “Evelyn of Arundale" to the Manchester Cat Show, where it gained four prizes. Mrs. Martin was the judge in these cases, but when it came to be shown in the limit challenge class, where Mr. Mason was a judge, that gentleman, drawing the kitten from its pen, remarked to Mrs. Martin, “Don’t you see, its tail has been cut?" Mrs. Wilson immediately went to the secretary, who returned with her, bringing the veterinary’s certificate as to the cause of the disfigurement. Mr. Mason, however, apparently with some heat, exclaimed, “I don't care for either her or her certificate.”
In conclusion. Mr. Fraser said his client was not vindictive in the matter, and was willing to let the matter drop if defendant would withdraw, apologise, and pay the costs. Mr. Jones, defendant’s counsel, rather objected to this sort of offer as unfair to his client, who, he said, had never suggested that Mrs. Wilson had herself cut the cat’s tail.
MRS. WILSON’S (PLAINTIFF’S) ACCOUNT.
Mrs. Wilson, who said she resided in Arundale Road, Sydenham, gave her evidence in low tremulous tones and both the counsel and the jury had to strain their ears to the utmost to catch what she said. She testified that she was a member of the National Cat Club as well as of the Southern Counties and the Northern Counties Clubs, and had been showing cats for eight or nine years. Her evidence generally supported counsel’s opening statement.
Shortly before the Bath show, the kitten in question, had been playing with another kitten in the plaintiff’s bed-room when it rolled over against a gas fire and slightly singed an eyebrow and the hair at the very tip of the tail. After the plaintiff had given this explanation at the meeting of the committee Mrs. Sinkins proposed and Mrs. Miller seconded, a resolution to the effect that Mr. Mason had been right to disqualify the kitten owing to a disfigurement of the tail, but that the disfigurement might have been caused by an accident rather than a deliberate act. The veterinary surgeon of the club wrote out a certificate to this effect, stating that the point of the kitten’s tail had lost some hair as a result. As soon the plaintiff returned to London the kitten was examined by Mr. Sewell, an eminent veterinary surgeon, who gave a certificate stating that he detected no blunt cut hairs. The prizes won by the plaintiff at the show were then duly handed to her. (All of her prizes would have been withheld until she was cleared of any cheating.) The Committee of the National Cat Club stated that they considered Mrs. Wilson had been exonerated and that therefore it was not necessary for them to go into the matter.
Mr Fraser: Would it have been to its advantage as an exhibit if this cat's tail had been shorter? Fraser.
Plaintiff: Not at all.
What would be the effect of such a notice as that “The cat’s tail was cut”? - My cats would be disqualified from showing.
Mr. Justice Kennedy: is a short tail a merit? - Not too short, my lord.
Mr. C. E. Jones (counsel for defendant): is your lordship talking about the tail or the hair of the tail? (Laughter.)
Mrs. Wilson: The hair on the tip of the cat’s tail always short if it is a fully furnished tail.
Mr. Justice Kennedy: But is the shortness of tail a point? - No, my lord.
Would the fact of some of the hair being off be a handicap? - I should have thought so, my lord. If I had thought it was even noticeable I should not have exhibited the kitten.
Mrs. Wilson stated that the tail must not be too long or too short. She thought that markings of hair on the point of the tail would handicap the cat.
Continuing her evidence, Mrs. Wilson said she met Mr. Mason at the Bath Show, after the notice of disqualification appeared. Mr Mason had remarked to her “It is sad” or “a sorry job.” They were quite friendly, and she remarked. “It is all right now I am exonerated.’’ She also made the comment that she did not think his eyesight was as good as it had been, and he assented.
Mr Jones said Mr Mason had never suggested that the lady had “faked” or trimmed the tail. His learned friend, in fact, admitted the cat was injured and that was the ground of the disqualification. Mrs. Wilson said it was most unusual for a judge to give his reason for disqualification on a slip of paper. The effect of that notice would be that she could not show her cats again. In reply to his lordship, Mrs. Wilson said that shortness of tail was not a distinctive point of merit.
Mr. Fraser: Have you observed any result of the appearance of defendant’s notes in the paper? - Some people have not treated me nicely - people with whom I was formerly on friendly terms.
At a subsequent point her examination Mrs. Wilson asked the Judge: May I say all l want to say? (Laughter.)
Justice Kennedy: I am sure anything you want to say that is material will be suggested by your counsel.
At a show held at Manchester under the auspices of the Northern Counties Cat Club the plaintiff exhibited, with the full approbation of the authorities, several of her cats, including the kitten Evelyn of Arundale. Mrs. Martin adjudicated on the cat in question, and it carried off the first prize in the open Chinchilla class for females, beating adult cats – which was a “a great feather” for a kitten to beat its elders. It also won the first prize in the novice class, second prize in the breeders’ class, and second prize in the kitten class. Mrs. Martin was present at the judging in the challenge limit class, and Mrs. Wilson saw her draw Mr. Mason’s attention to the kitten. Mr. Mason took it from its pen, ran his hand along its tail and said, “Don’t you see that her tail is cut?” Mrs. Wilson then went to the secretary of the club and obtained Mr. Sewell’s certificate regarding the kitten. This was handed to the judges, and the defendant allegedly said, “I do not care for her or her certificates.”
As a consequence, the kitten was deprived of certain prizes in this class, which it would otherwise have received. The plaintiff said that if Mr. Mason’s accusation had been true it would be grounds for disqualification; in fact, it would prevent her from ever exhibiting again. The action of the defendant and the publication had caused some unpleasantness. In January last the Southern Counties Cat Club held their exhibition at Westminster, but not under the National Cat Club rules, and her cats were not allowed to compete. There was not the slightest ground for saying that she had done anything dishonest.
Counsel submitted that there was no ground for Mr Mason’s accusation against the plaintiff. If his learned friend (counsel for the defence) would get up in his place and say that there was no shadow of foundation for the charge that the plaintiff had done anything dishonest, and that his client would apologise and pay the costs there would be an end of the matter.
Mr. Jones, in cross-examining the plaintiff, asked: Have you ever been a judge at cat shows? – Yes.
The point of a Chinchilla tail is that it should be pointed like a paint brush?—My cats have square tails. I object to the long pointed tail.
Continuing, Mrs. Wilson said she groomed her cats to get square tails.
Mr. Jones (producing a brush tail): What is that? — I should say that it is a very poor tail. (Laughter.)
I admit it is not a good tail. A person does not want to kill a good cat to get a tail- (Laughter.) Is it not a proper shaped tail?—No.
Mr. Jones: Is it a blemish for a chinchilla cat to have a black hair the tip of the tail?
I have never seen chinchilla with only black hair at the tip of the tail (Laughter.)
Mr. Jones: I don’t mean that it has no hair anywhere else, (laughter.)
His Lordship: I cannot have that noise in court.
Plaintiff admitted that black hair at the tip of the tail would a blemish, but said if that were black it would be black all over the tail. She said she had never known so much attention being paid to cats’ tails before.
Mrs. Wilson said Mr Mason had once reported on her cat at the Crystal Palace. That was in the “Fur and Feather.” If he had disqualified her cat without giving his reason there would have been no reflection and she would have accepted the decision.
Mr Jones assured the lady there was no charge of dishonesty to which she retorted “I beg your pardon, but that is decidedly dishonest.”
The next part of the report is hard to read, but it was suggested that the tail had been burned to rid it of a blemish. The counter-argument was that Mrs. Wilson’s bedroom needed to be kept warm because of an illness.
In cross-examination, Mr Jones asked if the lady was in tears at the show. - Very likely, I was in a terrible state. I had never had a word said against my honour before.
Mr Jones: No-one has said a word about your honour. Mr Mason has never imputed dishonesty to you.
WITNESSES FOR THE PLAINTIFF
Mr. A. J. Sewell, veterinary surgeon, stated that in January last year, he examined the plaintiff’s kitten, and gave a certificate to the condition of the fur on the tail.
Mr. Jones said that the cat was in Court. (Laughter.)
Mr. Justice Kennedy: It is always pleasant to see a nice cat—(laughter)—but we do not sit here to be amused by looking at cats. I do not think it necessary to produce it.
Miss Muriel Wilson, daughter of the plaintiff, gave evidence as to the kitten having been singed by coming into contact with the gas fire.
Mrs. Mary Ransome, of Bowden. Altrincham, Cheshire, stated that she was the editor of the periodical “Our Cat,” and acted as secretary of the cat show at Manchester in the early part of last year. In consequence of what plaintiff told her she produced the certificates of the veterinary surgeons with reference to the kitten. Mrs. Martin, who had awarded the plaintiff certain prizes, desired to withdraw her decisions, but witness informed her that it was impossible. The plaintiff, however, did not receive the special awards which ought to have followed her successes.
MR MASON’S (DEFENDANT'S) ACCOUNT
The plaintiff alleged that at the show and subsequently in the article in “Fur and Feather” the defendant, Mr. Tom B. Mason, imputed that she had been guilty of dishonest conduct in trimming the kitten’s tail and that that was the reason he disqualified it. Defendant denied that he had imputed any dishonest conduct to the plaintiff.
Mr. J. E Jones, counsel for defendant, in his opening address to the jury, denied that his client had ever alleged that Mrs. Wilson wilfully faked or trimmed the tail of the kitten, or had at any time cast any aspersion upon her honour. The tail had been injured, and that was a ground of disqualification, but the defendant never suggested that the plaintiff bad done this herself.
Mr C. E. Jones, for the defence, pointed out that whether they looked at the correspondence or the interrogatories nowhere would the jury find that it had been alleged by Mr. Mason that Mrs. Wilson had cut this this cat’s tail. That the tail had the appearance of being cat was not denied by Mr. Mason, and such an impression might reasonably be induced by the burnt or singed hairs having in the ordinary course of grooming lost the bulbous or red appearance caused by singeing. He had never charged her with any deliberate improper treatment of the cat. In those circumstances it was not quite fair that his learned friend should challenge him in the hearing of the jury withdraw what his client always stated that he had never spoken, or apologise for something he had never done, and pay the costs of litigation which ought never to have been brought. There was no evidence of express malice, and the plaintiff’s idea that Mr. Mason had ill will against her was an unfounded assumption. The whole of the facts showed that the plaintiff had jumped to a wrong conclusion. As to the Southern Counties Show, where the entries of the plaintiff were excluded, the defendant had nothing whatever to do with that exhibition, and there was absolutely nothing to show that the refusal was anything which had been done in connection with the case.
The defendant, Mr. Mason, a journalist and small livestock judge, of Bradford, said he had never seen the kitten "Evelyn of Arundale" until it came before him at the Bath Show, and he had no idea then who the owner was. There was nothing on the cat or the pen to indicate to whom it belonged, and when he judged plaintiff’s kitten he did not know it was hers. He found the tail of Evelyn of Arundale was not natural in form. When he came to examine the cat at the Bath show, he, after talking over the matter with his steward, sent for the secretary.
Mr Mason: I sent for Mrs. James, secretary of the Bath Show, and asked what was to do. She said “If there is anything wrong you must disqualify, not pass.”
What did you do? – I posted the number in my book and wrote “Disqualified. Cut tail.” That was sent to the committee. I did not see the slip again. I did not put it up.
What did you with the slip ?—I sent it to the committee when I had finished judging the class.
Would the document be seen by anybody but the committee? - I cannot say, as far as I am concerned I sent it to the committee.
As a matter of fact did you see the slip either on the pen or in the class?- I did not, nor did I see it after I had sent it to committee.
You disqualified this cat; did that in any way disqualify Mrs. Wilson’s other cats?- I took no notice, but went judge the other classes. I do not know whether it did or did not disqualify her or her cats. I did not know the exhibit belonged her. After I had finished judging later in the day I attended the meeting, having been called upon to give evidence and state the reason why I considered that cat’s tail was cut. Mrs. Wilson and cat the cat were there.
Did Mrs. Wilson give any evidence in your hearing? - No, nor anyone else my hearing. Mr. Tonar spoke to me.
Did you know at time you were there that Mr. Tonar had given a certificate? - I did not.
When you left the room and went about the show did you meet Mrs. Wilson? - I saw both Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. James. Mrs. Wilson was crying. I said, “What is the matter, Mrs. James?” Mrs. James said, “Oh. the committee has decided uphold your award of disqualification, and sent the matter to the N.C.C.”
Did you say anything to Mrs. Wilson? - I told her I was sorry.
Did she tell you that the committee had completely exonerated her, and that she was upset by the reaction? No.
Did she show you copy of what purported to be the resolution of the committee? – No; I have never seen a copy of it to this day.
Did Mrs. Wilson tell you that disfigurement or disqualification might due to accident? —No, I never heard a word about it.
Witness (continuing) said the report which he put into “Fur and Feather” he honestly believed to be a fair report of what had taken place at the show and before the committee. At Manchester he judged the Limit Challenge Class, with other judges - two other gentlemen and Mrs. Martin. When he came to the “silvers” he did not recognise the plaintiff’s Evelyn. While holding it up to see that the colour of its eyes was right Mrs. Martin, who was standing near him, saw the end of tail and said, “Let me see that, Mr. Mason; that tail is cut.” After she examined the tail she asked: ”Is this the one you disqualified at Bath?” He said, “Yes, it is.”
Did you say, or hear anyone else say, I do not care for her (Mrs. Wilson), or for her certificates? - I did not hear it said, nor did I use the words.
As far as you know have the National Cat Club made any report as to this matter? —I have never seen it, not even up to now.
Have you since that time awarded to one of Mrs. Wilson’s cats at Cheltenham the prize as the best cat in the show? - I was one of four judges who did. It was I who suggested that it should have the prize.
Mr. Hugh Fraser (for plaintiff): Did you know that it was Mrs. Wilson's cat to which you awarded that prize at Cheltenham? —l will be honest and say I don't think I did. (Laughter.)
I want you to be honest all through? I always try to be that sir.
Was that a chinchilla? —Yes, it was.
Cross-examined on this last answer, witness said he withdrew that statement; he desired to be honest. He was thinking about the Palace Show. He did not know that it was Mrs. Wilson’s cat. but it would have made no matter if had known. He judged at many shows. He wished to withdraw the statement.
Would it not have been sufficient to say at Bath “Disqualified,” without adding “Cut tail”? – I had to put my reasons when I thought I was right.
Do you mean to say that you can never be wrong? – Oh no. I am the wrong man to say that.
Mr. Fraser: Do you not think "trimming” an unfortunate word to use? —I do not think so; it may be the grooming or getting the animal into form. The word was used to give the idea that the animal was not perfect.
Do you now believe that the cat’s tail was cut? - I do; I believe it was cut at the time I had it at Bath. I should never have put it into the paper if I had not been sure about it.
In re-examination, witness said the word “disqualify” was not used except where there was belief that the animal had been artificially treated.
Mr. J. E. Jones, counsel for the defendant, dealing with the incident at the Bath Show, made the contention that Mr. Mason, as judge at the show, had a qualified privilege which covered anything said honestly in the course of his duties. As to the incident at the Manchester show, it was not, said counsel, Mr. Mason who said "This cat's tail has been cut," but Mrs. Martin, who followed that up by asking Mr. Mason if that was the cat he had disqualified at Bath. He replied "Yes." Nor did Mr Mason say of Mrs. Wilson, "I don't care either for her or her certificate." All that he did was, in conjunction with a brother judge, to decline to receive a letter from Mrs. Wilson, an exhibitor, while the judging was in progress.
Mr. Jones: What are the markings of a chinchilla Persian cat? —The first is the colour, which must be a silver, devoid of markings either on the legs, tail, spine, or head. It must be an even ticked silver from the nose to the tail end. I am describing now an ideal cat (laughter). It should be a kind of white, with little grey tips.
Would black or shaded hair constitute an objectionable marking? —Yes.
Mr. Mason continued, that in his experience, it was a most difficult matter to get clear of the markings on the head, feet, and tail, particularly the extremity of the tail.
His Lordship: Do you mean that it would exclude it from the class, or that it would stand against it in placing for a prize? - [Hear, hear, my lord (laughter)] It would be against its gaining a prize.
Mr. Jones: What does chinchilla mean? Is it breed or colour?—Colour. We call it sometimes chinchilla and sometimes silver.
His Lordship: I suppose the theory is that it has some resemblance to that comparatively rare fur called chinchilla. - Quite right, my lord.
Mr. Mason, in illustration of a statement that the tip of a Persian cat’s tail should taper to a point, produced the tail of a chinchilla cat, and stroked from root to tip.
Witness, continuing, said that at the time he wrote his report in “Fur and Feather,” he honestly believed it to be a fair report of what had taken place at the show, and before the Committee. As far as he knew, the National Cat Club had made no report. In fact, he did not now know of any report for the National Cat Club.
When asked if he had anything to do with the refusal of Mrs. Wilson's entries by the Southern Counties Cat Club this year, Mr Wilson replied emphatically in the negative, adding that he was only a paid judge at the show.
WITNESSES FOR THE DEFENCE
A number of witnesses testified that in their opinion the cat's tail was cut when at Bath, and that Mr. Mason did not say at Manchester that he did not care for Mrs. Wilson or her certificate.
Mr James Pollard, gardener, who acted as steward to defendant, said he formed the opinion that the cat’s tail had been cut.
Mrs. Anne Pethick James, secretary of the Bath Show gave evidence which corroborated that of the defendant. She added that she had said to plaintiff that if the latter swore that she had not cut the cat’s tail she was bound to believe her, though she still retained the opinion that the cat’s tail had been cut by someone.
Mr. Tonar, veterinary surgeon to the committee of the Bath Cat Club, was called by Mr Jones, but not examined in chief. In cross-examination, he said that he had made a careful examination of the cat’s tail, and had come to the conclusion that the tip of the tail was singed. He gave a certificate to that effect. He noticed a hostile feeling among the members of the committee towards Mrs. Wilson. On the second day the certificate he had given was the talk of the show.
Mr F. W. Weston and Mr Victor James Lowe, judges at the Manchester Show, having given evidence in support of defendant’s case.
Mrs. Martin, who was a judge at the Manchester Show, confirmed the defendant’s account of what took place there. Witness said she did not notice that the tail of the plaintiff’s cat had been cut when she awarded it a prize. It was not until the judging in the Limit Challenge Class that she made the discovery of the blemish.
Mr Fram Norris, breeder and exhibitor of cats at Kew Green, Surrey said he was close to the judging ring at Manchester, and never heard the defendant say anything.
Lady Decies, of Sefton Park, Slough, said she heard Mrs. Martin say to Mr Mason “Oh look at that tail,” and turning to Mr Mason she said “I think that cat’s tail has been cut.”
Mr Fraser, cross-examining Lady Decies, has the plaintiff’s cat ever beaten yours? – For my champion “Zaida” I refused £1,100. (After Zaida’s second triumph at the Crystal Palace Show, Lady Decies was offered – and refused - that staggering sum for the cat.)
Is that the cat that was beaten? - She got some gravel on her coat.
Was that the cat that was beaten? - I cannot remember who the judge was then.
Who was the owner of the successful cat? - I have quite forgotten. I cannot remember.
Was it not Mrs. Wilson’s? - I am not quite sure.; Zaida was beaten three times in one year owing to the gravel on her coat.
This was the case for the defendant.
THE SUMMING UP AND THE VERDICT
Mr Justice Kennedy said in this case the plaintiff complained of two alleged libels and one slander. As to the first of the libels – the slip containing the notification that the plaintiff’s kitten had been disqualified because it had a “cut tail” – he did not quite see that there had been any publication by the defendant. On the evidence before him, what was written by the defendant on the slip of paper was sent by him according to directions to the secretary. Apart from the question of privilege, he did not see that, because the secretary chose to publish the whole of the contents of that slip, it could properly be held to be publication by the defendant.
Mr Fraser said it was clear that the slip was in the handwriting of the defendant, and that there was a publication by him to the secretary, the runner, and members of the committee.
Mr Justice Kennedy said that, in view of the recent decision of the Court of Appeal as to publication to typewriters and clerks, he doubted whether what the defendant did was publication by him. Judges in these shows had, in the exercise of their duty, to make communications to their committees, and such communications were privileged. The publication unquestionably was by the committee, and he should hold, without hesitation, that the occasion was privileged. Further, on this point, he could see no evidence of express malice for the jury. As to what was published in “Fur and Feather,”(which it was alleged was an incomplete version of the decision of the committee at Bath) it was for the jury to say whether the words complained of constituted a libel or not. With reference to the allegation that at Manchester the defendant said, “Don’t you see the cat’s tail has been cut,” there was a dispute as to whether the words were really uttered by the defendant. There was certainly nothing slanderous in saying “I don’t care for her or her certificates.” Assuming that the defendant had uttered the words, “Don’t you see the cat’s tail has been cut,” the occasion was privileged because the words were uttered in the course of a discussion between the judges. Even if the words were uttered by the defendant, and with what the law called express malice, there were the further questions, “whether the words constituted an actionable slander, and whether the plaintiff had sustained special damage.”
Mr Fraser said, as to the slip containing the words “Disqualified – cut tail,” there was clear evidence that the words were published to the committee, and there would be a qualified privilege in that case. Therefore, it was incumbent on the plaintiff to prove that the defendant wrote the words maliciously. He submitted that there was evidence to go to the jury that the defendant knew when he handed the slip to the committee that it would be posted up outside and that there was a prima facie case on the question of publication.
Mr Justice Kennedy said that if a person did a thing which he knew would result in a publication he should agree with the learned counsel, but there was nothing in this case which went anything like as far as that. On the contrary, there was evidence that the defendant never knew that it would be posted.
Mr Fraser said he did not think he could ask the jury to say there was publication of the slip to anyone but the members of the committee, but he asked the learned judge to leave the question of malice to the jury. With regard to the words used at Manchester, he agreed with what had been said as the their not being actionable per se, and he did not wish them to be left to the jury as a substantive case of slander. But he asked that the jury should be permitted to consider whether the words were or were not spoken on the issue of malice.
Mr Jones then addressed the jury on behalf of the defendant, and Mr Fraser on behalf of the plaintiff.
Mr Justice Kennedy, in the course of his summing up, said he was glad that the jury had very nearly come to the end of their trouble. They had been listening for more than two days to the history of a kitten which was unfortunate enough, while playing in its mistress’s bedroom, to flick its tail into the gas fire, (laughter) and become the unconscious heroine of a perfect Iliad of troubles (renewed laughter). They had been transported into an atmosphere which they must try and appreciate, but they must not attach too much importance to the goings-on of cat fanciers. He hoped that the case would fade out of everybody’s memory as quickly as possible after the jury had given their verdict.
Without retiring, the jury found a verdict for the plaintiff, and assessed the damages at £50. Judgment for the plaintiff accordingly, with costs. Stay of execution was refused.
CHIEFLY ABOUT CATS - Globe, 24th January 1907
Grey cats. Black cats. Chinchilla cats. Blue cats. This absorbing subject. The cat (As Mr. Bart Kennedy would say). The feline slander case being still sub judice, we shall make no comment on it, except to point out how it proves that what the great majority of people demand in a cat is looks. Not soul. Not intelligence. Merely looks. Take the following dialogue, for instance. " The point of a chinchilla tail is that it should be pointed like a paint brush!" said Mr. Jones. " My cats have square tails. I object to the long pointed tails," Mrs. Wilson declared. What is a long pointed tail compared with amiability of disposition! Why despise a square tail if the heart beneath it is of gold. For ourselves what we ask from a cat is a, certain snugness and sociability. It must have a purr like the engines of a stationary motor-bus, and be ready to produce it at any moment. It must rub its right ear against our trouser-leg. It must amuse us by doing its big humorous act of pretending that our friends' legs are tree-trunks, and sharpening its claws upon them. But it must not do this to our rich uncle. Ergo it must have tact. Given these qualities, our cat may look like an old rag if it pleases, or, if it thinks fit, wear one ear torn into strips amid the bare scenario of a tail.
MORE ON MRS WILSON. . .
Mrs Isabel Wilson was no stranger to the legal system (or, judging by the frequent changes of address, to moving home.) . . .
Daily Telegraph & Courier (London), 7th December 1903 – Mrs Wilson complained that she had to step into the road because two nursemaids were blocking the path with their prams.
NURSEMAIDS AND "PRAMS:" Annie Hearn, of 51, Crystal Palace-road, Sydenham, and Rose Browning, of 2, West-hill Sydenham, two nursemaids, were summoned, at Greenwich, for obstructing the free passage of the footpath. Police-sergeant Butler deposed that the defendants were wheeling bassinettes side by side in Silverdale, Sydenham. They were talking to each other, and it was impossible for anyone to pass without going into the roadway, which was muddy. He spoke to them and Browning said, “We have always wheeled them in the same manner without being interfered with." Nursemaids in the neighbourhood often walked together and talked in this way. Mrs. Isabel Eugenie Wilson, of Avondale, Adamsrill-road, Sydenham, said she complained to the officer. She had previously had to get into the road to pass the defendants. Browning had spoken to her somewhat rudely. Rose Browning said she had never been warned, nor did she know that she was doing wrong. She denied that she had been impudent. Hearn made a similar statement, and denied that Mrs. Wilson had to step in the roadway. Mr. Kettle said the penalty for this offence was 40s but he let off the defendants with a fine of 3s and 2s costs each.
Croydon Chronicle and East Surrey Advertiser, 18th March 1909 – Mrs Wilson, having moved to Purley, was sued by the builders of her cat runs after failing to settle her account. She had moved because she was not permitted to erect cat runs at her previous home.
Mrs. Isabelle Wilson, of Purley Grange, Brighton-road, Purley, a successful exhibitor of Persian cats, was the defendant in a case heard by His Honor Judge Harington at the Croyden County Court on Tuesday. The plaintiffs were Mills and Waterman, of Highstreet, Thornton Heath, and they claimed £52 14s. 9d. for work done. Mr. Booth was for the plaintiffs and Mr. Mutter for the defendant. In opening the case, Mr. Booth said that the claim might be divided into two parts - repairs and decorations, and the building of cat-houses. Defendant had paid £21 10s into Court, and that was accepted in full discharge of the decorations and repairs' account. That left a balance of £22 on the "cat" account. James Henry Mills, a member of the plaintiff firm, said that in July last defendant asked him to give her an approximate price for a 150 feet wire netting cat run, rising to six feet, with 25 compartments. His estimate was £38 10s; but it was not accepted because there was not, sufficient room. He then gave an estimate of £29 6s. for 52 six feet runs. Mrs. Wilson said that that was rather high; but he told her that it was not builders' work, and that she should go to an horticultural builder.
His Honor - l didn't know that cats were connected with horticulture. (Laughter.)
Witness said that he agreed to do the work for £21 19s. 6d. She also told him to build nine eight feet runs, and asked him to make use of some wire netting doors that she had. He said that he would allow her for them. To do that work he had to clear the ground and replant fruit trees, and she asked him to do the work as cheaply as he could. He proceeded with the work, and had to do one or two extra things.
Mr. Mutter intimated that his case was that the cat runs were not to exceed £30.
By the judge —He allowed Mrs. Wilson about £1 for the doors.
Other witnesses gave evidence in support of the claim, after which, Mrs. Wilson was called. She said that when she was living at Enmore-road, South Norwood, she had 16 runs put up, but she had to take them down because the Ecclesiastical Commissioners would not permit buildings on the land. The runs were then carefully taken down and were fit to be put up again. When she gave plaintiffs the order she gave them to understand that the cat runs were not to cost more than £30. Mr. Mills said they would not be as much as that. Miss Wilson corroborated her mother's evidence.
Mr. Mutter, addressing the Judge, said that the work done by plaintiffs amounted to about £120 altogether. Mrs. Wilson paid various sums generally on account, but when plaintiffs delivered their accounts she found that instead of there being one account plaintiffs had separated them. The amount that plaintiffs were now suing for was the balance on the two accounts added together. >His Honor gave judgment for plaintiffs with regard to the £21 19s. 6d. He was not satisfied that there was an absolute condition that the cost of the runs was not to exceed £30. He referred the question of how much was due in respect of the nine runs to the Official Referee of the Court.