Nigerians nabbed for fake marriages scam

Leeds Crown Court heard asylum seekers and overstayers from Nigeria were paying to marry Eastern European partners in bogus weddings exploiting a "loophole" in regulations which exempts Church of England weddings from rules requiring foreigners to obtain a certificate of approval to marry.

The plot came to light after a church warden in West Yorkshire and a Registrar in the Wakefield Diocese became increasingly suspicious about the number of potential brides and grooms they were seeing and the police were informed.

The UK Border Agency’s newly formed Immigration Crime Team began an investigation which culminated on July 20 with the arrest of couples on their way to sham weddings at St Philip and St James in Scholes and St Lukes in Cleckheaton.

Jailing four Nigerian men, including Adeola Orobiyi, and one Czech for their part in the scam, the Recorder of Leeds said they had mounted "an assault on the controls of immigration in this country".

By applying to a Diocesan Registrar for a common licence to marry they avoided the regulations required by the Home office and the system of banns being read for three weeks in a church which might have exposed the use of false identification documents.

He said the customers were prepared to pay £2,000 or more. "There can be no doubt that these are serious offences."

Tom Klouda, prosecuting, said "this loophole was seen by asylum seekers as a means to remain and obtain rights to live and work in the European Union".

Couples wishing to marry could apply for a common licence to a Diocesan registrar if one of them had been resident in the area for 15 days and those involved had done just that.

A statement from the Wakefield Diocese said: "We first became suspicious of these applications for marriage made in one of our churches because of doubts cast over the authenticity of some of the supporting documentation and immediately reported this to the appropriate authorities.

"We have also made sure every other diocese has been contacted to ensure we both protect the sanctity of marriage in this country and prevent any illegal act occurring in our churches." (Yorkshire Evening Post)