Belfast Telegraph

Trio admit their guilt over sham marriage in Derry

By Paul Higgins

A fake bride and her two witnesses have pleaded guilty to taking part in a sham marriage in Co Londonderry.

Mudiyanselage Achala Wijekkoon (26) and her two witnesses, Zaffar Iqbal (55) and Sarah Ann Dinsmore (33), pleaded guilty at Antrim Crown Court to conspiring to assist illegal immigration on November 23, 2012 by taking part in a sham marriage.

On the morning their trial was due to start, the trio entered guilty pleas.

Wijekkoon's 'groom', 42-year-old Herbert O'Neill, from Bushmills Road in Coleraine, pleaded guilty to the same charge during an earlier court appearance.

In 2012 the pair's 'wedding ceremony' at Coleraine Borough Council's Cloonavin registry chamber was halted before it was completed and four arrests were made.

Officers from the Border Agency swooped on the registry office as O'Neill and Wijekkoon, with an address at Stranmillis Road in south Belfast, were about to say "I do", and arrested the bridal party.

Following the guilty pleas yesterday Iqbal, from the Waterside in Coleraine, Dinsmore, from Roscrea in Co Tipperary, and fake bride Wijekkoon were all released on continuing bail.

They will be sentenced next month when pre-sentence probation reports have been compiled.

Last year concerns were raised that Northern Ireland could become the sham marriages capital of Europe because of the upsurge in those looking to capitalise on the limited border restrictions with the Republic.

Northern Ireland is reportedly being increasingly viewed as a safe haven for some from outside the EU who are desperate to remain in the UK.

The Belfast Telegraph previously revealed criminal gangs were charging up to £10,000 to stage sham weddings here.

Figures show at least one ceremony of convenience being held in town halls and churches in every county is broken up each week by immigration officials and the police.

A spokesman for Home Office Immigration Enforcement said it took the problem very seriously.

"Where we receive information that a wedding may be suspicious we will investigate," he said.

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