Vicar jailed over sham marriages
A Church of England vicar has been jailed for four years for his part in Britain's biggest sham marriage fraud to help hundreds of illegal immigrants stay in Britain.
The Reverend Alex Brown, 61, abused his position to marry hundreds of desperate African men to hard-up Eastern European women at his small parish church.
Over a four-year period, the "massive and cynical scam" involved women being paid up to £3,000 to wed to help illegal immigrants gain permanent residency in Britain.
He presided over 383 marriages at the Church of St Peter and St Paul in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, between July 2005 and July 2009, a 30-fold rise in marriages held over the previous four years.
He was sentenced to four years in jail on Monday after being found guilty at Lewes Crown Court in July of conspiring to facilitate the commission of breaches of immigration laws, alongside solicitor Michael Adelasoye, 50, and "recruiter" Vladymyr Buchak, 33.
Earnings for the church rocketed from £1,000 before the hundreds of marriages occurred, to around £22,000 for the first six months of 2009.
One bride told how she had to hand back her borrowed wedding dress hours after she had gone through with a ceremony, while one husband-to-be went under the name "Felix Spaceman".
A large proportion of the Africans who went through with the sham marriages had arrived lawfully in the UK, either through the asylum process or by gaining a student visa.
Investigators said it was when they had "reached the end of the line" in their legal applications and appeals to stay in the UK permanently that they went through the sham marriage process.
The gang were caught following an investigation by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) after caseworkers noticed a surge in immigration applications involving people who had married at the church.