Belfast Telegraph

'Naive simpleton' and his 'fake bride' avoid jail over sham wedding

By Paul Higgins

A "naive simpleton" hoped that his sham wedding to a Sri Lankan woman would mean they would live together as a married couple, a court has been told.

A defence lawyer said despite Herbert O'Neill (42) knowing his impending marriage to 26-year-old Mudiyanselage Achala Wijekkoon was entirely fake, the Coleraine man still harboured hopes for a future together, Antrim Crown Court heard.

O'Neill, from Bushmills Road, Wijekkoon and their two witnesses – Zaffar Iqbal (55) and 32-year-old Sarah Ann Dinsmore – had already pleaded guilty to conspiring together to assist illegal immigration on November 23, 2012 by taking part in a sham marriage. However, they all avoided prison sentences yesterday when a judge suspended their jail terms.

Officers from the UK Border Agency had learned of the impending sham marriage and swooped on Coleraine Registry Office as O'Neill and Wijekkoon were about to say "I do".

They arrested the bridal party, prosecution lawyer Neil Connor told the court, and after questioning "it became apparent that this was not a legitimate wedding".

Mr Connor said the wedding organiser was a 'Mr Ali', who owned a kebab shop in Ballycastle. All four had worked for him at one stage.

A lawyer for Wijekkoon, now with an address at Stranmillis Gardens in Belfast, revealed how the Sri Lankan woman is a qualified teacher, is already married in her home country and initially came to Northern Ireland legally to study.

However, when her visa expired, Wijekkoon didn't want to return to her homeland and her "abusive" husband.

Lawyers for Dinsmore, from Roscrea in Co Tipperary, and Iqbal, from the Waterside in Coleraine, said neither had gained financially but agreed to take part because of friendships they had with O'Neill and their employer Mr Ali.

Wijekkoon and O'Neill were handed one-year jail terms, suspended for two years. Dinsmore and Iqbal got six-month jail terms, suspended for 18 months.

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