A Sussex vicar has been found guilty of conducting hundreds of sham marriages to allow illegal immigrants to remain in the UK.
Of the 383 weddings the Rev Alex Brown conducted over four years at the Church of St Peter and St Paul in St Leonards, 360 were found to be bogus.
The 61-year-old was convicted of conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration at Lewes Crown Court on Thursday. He was convicted alongside co-defendants, Nigerian solicitor and pastor Michael Adelasoye, 50, and Ukrainian national Vladymyr Buchak, 33.
Many of the grooms were acquainted with Adelasoye and were facing deportation. Buchak, an illegal immigrant, supplied the brides, who received as much as £3,000 to marry the men.
The scam came to light after caseworkers at the UK Border Agency noticed a large number of applications from people who had been married at the church between 2005 and 2009, prompting a full investigation into the church.
The investigation uncovered a surge in marriages at the church while the scam was running from 2005 to 2009. While only 13 weddings took place at the church from 2001 to 2005, after the scam started running as many as eight weddings took place on one Sunday.
When investigators searched Brown’s vicarage last year, they found doctored documents, including a duplicate church electoral roll to cover the increase in weddings. The Crown Prosecution Service said it was the largest sham marriage scam ever brought to trial in the UK.
According to the Press Association, prosecutor David Walbank said there could be no doubt that Brown had been fully aware that the majority of weddings he was conducting were shams.
The Archdeacon of Hastings and Lewes, the Venerable Philip Jones, said he was not aware of anything like this occurring in the Church of England before and said that the Church did not condone Brown’s actions.
He said: “Naturally I’m very sad for Fr Alex but also for his congregation, his church and the community. It’s very sad for them because he was very well known there, he was a trusted figure. I’m sorry to say that his conviction demonstrates a breach of that trust and I know it will have upset many people.”
Vicar found guilty of conducting sham marriages
Published 30 July 2010 | Charlie Boyd