Belfast Telegraph

I officiated at 14 sham marriages, says rebel priest Pat Buckley

By Michael Donnelly

Controversial cleric and self-appointed bishop Pat Buckley has admitted involvement in 14 sham marriages.

The Co Antrim cleric, who was to have faced a retrial in the new year, pleaded guilty to 14 charges of conspiracy to defraud, while five others dating from 2004 to 2009 were not proceeded with.

Mr Justice Horner, who said he wished to reconsider the papers in the case and to review a defence file on Buckley's deteriorating health, will pass sentence on him next Thursday.

Mr Weir said that it was abundantly clear that the marriages he was involved in were sham marriages – marriages of convenience.

The judge said that initially he may have been motivated by a wish to help others, but later it was for gain and that he had a "certain knowledge" that what he was doing was wrong. Mr Weir also said it was accepted that the 61-year-old former Catholic priest was not the instigator or originator of the scam and that those who carefully and cunningly ran it could have done so without his help, although his involvement "made much less likely to be open to detection".

He was essentially a cog, rather than the wheel, but an important and necessary cog, nonetheless.

Leaving court, Buckley, from Princes Gardens in Larne, said: "I haven't an anorak over my head. I'm still wearing my collar. I'm not slinking out.

"I feel a bit lighter to get something that's been hanging over me for four or five years dealt with.

"But obviously I have a heaviness of heart because technically, at 61, I now have a criminal conviction. I'm limited in what I can say as I have to return to the court next week for the judge to impose sentence."

Buckley's case had been listed on court papers yesterday for "a mention". However, his defence QC Brendan Kelly asked that he be rearraigned on 14 of the charges, to which the bishop then pleaded guilty.

Mr Kelly said it was Buckley's purpose, carried out in a combination of openness and obvious compassion to help others, which had in turn had presented a significant lure to those operating the sham marriage scam as they preyed upon needy individuals seeking to remain in the UK.

However, the lawyer said the Bishop received little benefit and what he did receive could be described as something akin to a normal wedding fee.

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