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Cat's demise prompts rumours of Thatcher death Add to ...

A brief message about a felled feline really caused the fur to fly this week, prompting erroneous rumours about the demise of no less than Margaret Thatcher.

The brouhaha at a gala Toronto tribute to Canada's military is a cautionary tale about how modern instant messaging and good old-fashioned gossip can combine to shake things up at even the highest levels.

Some 1,700 luminaries, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, were in the middle of dinner Tuesday night when smart phones throughout the room began to buzz with the news: "Lady Thatcher has passed away."

Dinner chatter abruptly veered to expressions of shock and reminiscences of Margaret Thatcher, the 84-year-old former British prime minister, as news of her apparent passing spread like wildfire.

It eventually reached the ears of Mr. Harper, or someone close to him. Harper aide Dimitri Soudas, back in Ottawa, was dispatched to confirm the news and start preparing an official statement mourning the death of the Iron Lady, an icon to many in Harper's Conservative party.

Mr. Soudas immediately e-mailed his contacts at Buckingham Palace and in British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office.

They had no idea what he was talking about. Lady Thatcher, they informed an embarrassed Mr. Soudas, was still very much alive.

About 20 minutes after the rumour mill started churning, a corrective e-mail message began to circulate among the diners at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Turns out it was Transport Minister John Baird's beloved 16-year-old cat - whom he'd named Thatcher out of admiration for one of his political heroes - who had ceased to be.

Mr. Soudas is said to have quipped since: "If the cat wasn't dead, I'd have killed it by now."

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