360 weddings and a conviction – fake wedding vicar found guily
A Sussex seaside town Church of England vicar was found guilty yesterday of taking part in the biggest fake wedding scam Britain has ever seen, the Daily Mail reports.
The middle aged Reverend Alex Brown abused his position to marry 360 illegal immigrants to complete strangers.
Armed with a marriage certificate, the immigrants were then able to hoodwink the Home Office into giving them a visa to stay in Britain as a ‘spouse’, with access to education, healthcare and benefits.
Ninety couples were registered as living in one road and 52 in another. There were several brides and grooms from the same house, and one husband-to-be went under the name of ‘Felix Spaceman’.
Brown, 61, protested his innocence, but he was convicted with a Nigerian immigration solicitor – whose clients paid up to £15,000 for a dodgy wedding – and a Ukrainian who supplied hard-up Eastern Europeans willing to marry for £3,000 cash.
Michael Adelasoye, 50, a qualified immigration lawyer, found Africans who were desperate to stay in the UK after outstaying their visas.
Vladymyr Buchak, 33, who lived illegally under a false Estonian name, recruited the stooge brides and grooms from Hastings’s Eastern European community. Some couples wed several times.
Ten of the brides and grooms received police cautions, but the majority were never traced and are presumably still living here.
The three defendants denied conspiracy to breach immigration laws, but they were found guilty by a jury at Lewes Crown Court after a seven week trial.
Brown, who is openly gay, also became the only vicar in 800 years to be convicted of failing to read out the banns – asking the congregation if they knew of ‘any just cause or impediment’ why two people may not marry.
Judge Richard Hayward adjourned sentencing to September 6 but warned the three, who all live in St Leonards, he was considering jail. He told them: ‘You have been convicted on very clear evidence of a serious offence.’
Adelasoye and Brown were released on conditional bail, and Buchak was remanded in custody.
The vicar walked from court without a word, but Adelasoye, who is a pastor of the Ark of Hope church in St Leonards, protested: ‘I don’t think it’s a fair verdict. God looks after the righteous.’
Later, the Archdeacon of Lewes and Hastings, the Venerable Philip Jones, said he was ‘shocked and saddened’ by Brown’s betrayal.
He said: ‘We are particularly sorry for those who have been deceived and hurt by his actions. The church and the community are faced with a betrayal of trust on the part of Father Brown, who was a very trusted figure.’
He promised that churches would be more vigilant to fraud in the future, and said the Church of St Peter and St Paul was unlikely to be used for worship again after Brown’s tarnished tenure.
Brown’s motivation remains unclear. Police believe the respected priest threw away his career, his reputation and potentially his freedom to feather a nest for his retirement.
But although they found £5,000 in cash at his home, this was not nearly as much as they would have expected if Brown’s sole desire was to make money, rather than to help immigrants.
The case, which police believe was part of an international multi-million pound scam, has once again exposed the lax regulations that have led to a booming racket in sham marriages over recent years. Numerous attempts to curb the thousands of fake unions every year have been stymied by EU and human rights laws.
A total of 529 suspect marriages were reported to the Home Office in the 11 months to December last year – a rise of 54 per cent on 2008 levels.
Detective Inspector Andy Cummins, of the UK Border Agency, said: ‘This was the biggest operation of its kind we have come across, and the only one we know about where the vicar was entirely complicit.
‘As we investigated, we were all shocked as the scale of it emerged. The nearer he got to his retirement date, the more weddings he was doing.’
Immigration minister Damian Green said: ‘Britain is no longer a soft touch. We now have specialist teams of immigration and police officers working day in, day out, to tackle and prosecute people who commit this form of organised criminality.
‘We are determined to create a hostile environment which makes it harder than ever for illegal immigrants to come to the UK and put untold pressures on our public services.’
Suspected sham marriages have increased by more than 50 per cent since the Law Lords ruled against tough Home Office marriage regulations on ‘human rights’ grounds.
And the Church of England is being targeted as a soft touch by immigration gangs because register offices have grown wise to their tricks.
Additionally, until recently, vicars were not legally required to make the same checks as registrars.
After the Daily Mail exposed the shocking extent of the bogus marriage racket in 2004, new rules were brought in to combat the menace.
Non-EU nationals were told they must apply for Home Office approval before being allowed to marry an EU citizen.
As a result, the rate plummeted from an estimated 3,578 fake weddings in 2004 to just 282 in 200.
But churches were exempt from the new rules. And then, in 2008, Law Lords said these rules breached human rights and could deny genuine couples the chance to marry.
So now the rules have been scrapped for churches and register offices alike and last year, the number of illegal immigrants staging sham ceremonies to stay in the country was back up to 500, and rising.
Illegal immigrants have been finding it easier to hoodwink churches.
Often all that is needed to get past the flimsy interview process with a vicar is proof of identity and documentation showing a link to the parish. The gangsters simply supply forged documents.
In contrast, Roman Catholic churches carry out a strict screening process in which the couple must prove their devotion to each other and to the church.
Immigration Matters Comment
This is one of the most bizzare cases I have ever seen and could be a plot for a movie. You couldn’t make it up!
On a serious note, people who take part in illegal marriages should be aware that it will not give them an automatic right to a British passport.
Legitimate lawyers an OISC registered immigration advisers will never recommend entering into a fake marriage to obtain leave to remain in the UK.
All of the weddings in this case are now being investigated which means they have wasted their money by giving it to crooks.