Two priests have been arrested on suspicion of running a sham marriage conspiracy to help illegal immigrants stay in Britain, the Telegraph reports.
The Rev Brian Shipsides, 54, and the Rev Elwon John, 43, were detained yesterday by police investigating suspected fake weddings at a church in east London.
The Daily Telegraph told last week how police and Church insiders fear crime gangs are using corrupt vicars to exploit weaknesses in Anglican procedures and help thousands of African men and women gain residency.
It came after a vicar in East Sussex became the first clergyman to be found guilty of being complicit in a false marriage scam, on Friday.
Previous inquiries have focused on those getting married but detectives are now investigating the role of vicars across the country.
The Rev Shipsides and the Rev John were detained following the arrest of two Nigerians an a Dutch woman suspected of arranging and taking part in a sham marriage at All Saints church in Forest Gate, east London, on Saturday.
The Rev Shipsides, who appears in the Guinness Book of World Records for officiating at the wedding of the world’s tallest married couple in 2001, was arrested at his vicarage on suspicion of conspiracy to breach immigration law and attempting to pervert justice.
The Rev John was also arrested at his home, in Barking, on suspicion of breaking immigration law, and police swooped on their churches, All Saints and St Edmunds.
Detective Inspector Karl Amos, of the London Immigration Crime Team, said: “The arrests were part of an ongoing investigation into suspected sham marriages at a church in Forest Gate.
“We have also carried out searches at a number of addresses, and will now seek to examine closely the evidence that we have recovered.
“Our policy is clear – if we uncover evidence that a wedding may not be genuine we will investigate, and if appropriate, take action against those involved.”
The 27-year-old Nigerian man has been charged with perjury, attempting to gain leave to remain by deception and identity card offences.
The 30-year-old Nigerian woman was charged with conspiracy to facilitate breaches of immigration laws.
They will appear in custody at Inner London Crown Court on October 4.
The 23-year-old Dutch woman has admitted facilitation offences. She was handed a two-month suspended sentence and banned from re-entering Britain for a year.
Gangs, who have been operating all over the country, charge up to £15,000 to fix up the sham marriages, usually between Africans and Eastern Europeans, who go their separate ways afterwards.
The Rev Alex Brown, 61, was found guilty last Friday of carrying out 360 sham weddings over four years. Brown was thought to have carried out the weddings for cash and around £5,000 was found in his rectory.
Damian Green, the immigration minister, has said the Government is determined to crackdown on people who conspire to remain in Britain illegally.
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