In the Media

300 people in 'sham weddings' scandal but just two deported

PUBLISHED April 1, 2012

It looks like any ordinary wedding: a happy bride and groom and a smiling vicar uniting them.

In fact, the couple being married by the Rev Brian Shipsides are just one of 150 suspected sham marriages he conducted and for which he faces jail this week.

But the scandal runs far deeper: just two phoney brides or grooms who took part in the bogus marriages have been deported, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose.

And of the couples who Mr Shipsides admits were bogus, dozens have gained the right to stay in Britain.

Mr Shipsides, who oversaw two Anglican churches in London, will be sentenced on Tuesday for his role in the conspiracy.

Officials are examining all 250 marriages held by Rev Shipsides and other clergymen at the churches over a two and a half year period but so far just eight foreigners have been jailed for immigration offences, and two individuals have been removed from Britain.

In the scam European Union citizens - mostly from Portugal or the Netherlands and therefore entitled to live in Britain - would marry foreigners, the majority from Nigeria, to gain them the right to stay in Britain.

The fake spouses paid Mr Shipsides £140 a time for the bogus ceremonies, which they hoped would boost their chances of obtaining residency permits, and therefore win the right to work and claim benefits.

In fact, out of the 250 weddings which took place in the churches of All Saints church in Forest Gate, east London, and at its sister church St Anne's, between December 2007 and July 2010, 150 brides or grooms have been granted a British residency permit.

The sham marriage conspiracy came to light when another vicar in the same part of London tipped off the UK Border Agency (UKBA) after noticing a suspicious rise in the number of ceremonies. There had been just 15 weddings in a comparable previous period.

Sources said the UKBA is now taking a close look at all 250 weddings which took place at the churches in that period.

A UKBA source said: "We have been reviewing these cases where documentation was issued with a view to revoking that documentation.

"We will be contacting all of those involved in these weddings and asking them to prove their ceremonies were genuine.

"Those who do not do so will have their residency revoked and will be required to leave the UK. Those who fail to do so will face possible enforcement action.

"However, in such cases they will have a right of appeal to an immigration judge who will review whether they have provided evidence of a genuine relationship."

The number of prosecutions and removals may rise as the investigation continues, but the source added: "It's going to be a long job."

It comes as new figures showed the number of sham marriages reported to the UKBA reached record levels last year.

The total rocketed from 926 in 2010 to 1,741 last year, compared with less than 400 in 2007, according to the official data disclosed by Lord Henley, a Home Office minister.

Mr Shipsides, 55, who served the parish for 13 years, admitted conspiracy to facilitate breaches of immigration laws. He faces a maximum sentence of 14 years at Inner London Crown Court this week

Mr Shipsides' curate, the Rev Elwon John, was cleared in February of any involvement in the plot.

Amudalat Ladipo, 31, who acted as a fixer, was convicted of conspiracy to facilitate breaches of immigration laws.

One of the two people who has been deported was Omyeka Nwagbo, 27.

He was arrested in his "wedding" suit minutes before the ceremony was jailed for 15 months for possessing false identity documents and perjury and has now served his sentence.

Nwagbo was deported to Nigeria last December. He had claimed when he was sentenced that he was homosexual and would be persecuted if he was sent back to Nigeria.

His fake bride, Julitza Nedd, then 23, received an eight week suspended sentence for assisting illegal immigration.

Nedd, a Swede, also received a 12 month ban from entering Britain when she was sentenced, but that requirement has now lapsed and she is free to enter and leave the country at will.

Another person, who was not prosecuted, has also been removed from the country.

A UK Border Agency spokesman said: "We are actively reviewing all cases where individuals gained the right to live in the UK as a result of a wedding at All Saints during the period in question.

"Where we have evidence that leave has been granted on the basis of a sham marriage we will look to revoke that right to stay and remove them from the UK."

It is not the first time the Church of England has been hit by a scandal involving rogue clergymen conducting large numbers of fake marriages.

In a separate case in September 2010, the Rev Alex Brown was jailed for four years after being found guilty of carrying out 360 sham ceremonies at the Church of St Peter and St Paul in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex.

A spokesman for Chelmsford Diocese said: "Brian Shipsides is suspended from the Church of England. His case will come under the CofE's Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) when he has been sentenced.

"The relevant penalties include removal from office and a lifetime ban from working as a priest in the CofE.

"The CDM is quasi-judicial and we cannot place ourselves in a position where we may be perceived as prejudicing the process by commenting on it."