Bishop expresses sorrow after vicar jailed for sham weddings

The Bishop of Lewes has condemned the actions of a Church of England vicar who was sentenced to four years in prison yesterday for his part in Britain’s biggest ever sham marriage scam.

The Rt Rev Wallace Benn said people had been “let down” by the actions of Alex Brown, who presided over 360 fake marriage ceremonies at his parish church from July 2005 to July 2009.

Also convicted were accomplices Michael Adelasoye, a 50-year-old immigration solicitor, and 33-year-old Ukrainian factory worker Vladymyr Buchak.

The scam involved Adelasoye recruiting failed male asylum seekers from Africa and Buchak finding hard-up Eastern European women who were willing to marry the men for money, some being paid as much as £3,000.

The trio were caught following an investigation by the UK Border Agency after staff noticed a large number of applications coming from people who had married at the church.

After Brown’s arrest on June 30 last year, investigators searched his vicarage in St Leonards-on-Sea and found an electoral roll he had doctored in order to conceal the sharp rise in the number of weddings taking place in his church.

As many as eight weddings took place in the church each Sunday while the scam was running, a 30-fold increase in the number of weddings taking place prior to July 2005.

The church’s earnings also increased dramatically, from £1,000 in the first six months of 2005 to £22,000 in the first six months of 2009.

The judge at Lewes Crown Court deemed that Brown must have been aware of what was going on and been “happy to play your part”.

Bishop Benn said Brown’s sentence reflected the “seriousness of his offences”.

“So many people have been let down by Alex Brown’s conduct and all those affected by the events in St Leonards are at the forefront of our sympathy and prayers,” he said.

“The Church holds marriage as a sacred institution and condemns unreservedly any activities and behaviour that undermine that sanctity.”

He added: “We recognise that people’s confidence in the Church of England to live up to its own standards has been undermined by these events.”

Brown was also sentenced to four months in jail for failing to read out the banns of marriage properly, the first vicar ever to be convicted of breaking the 800-year-old law.

Benn said the diocesan bishop, the Rt Rev John Hind, would take the “appropriate disciplinary action” against Brown.