NEW rules to prevent sham marriages came into force this week in response to the jailing of a St Leonards vicar who conducted more than 350 bogus weddings.
The Church of England has brought in the new guidelines after the Rev Alex Brown oversaw what prosecutors called a “massive and cynical” immigration fraud at St Peter’s Church off Bohemia Road, St Leonards.
Rev Brown was sentenced to four years in prison last September after being convicted of his part in the scam which saw 360 weddings between hard-up EU nationals and mostly African partners, designed to get round the immigration rules.
Immigration lawyer and pastor Michael Adelasoye and Ukrainian fixer Vladymyr Buchak were also jailed. Now after reviewing its procedures, The Church of England has told its clergy that any wedding involving a non-European bride or groom will need a licence, which involves sworn oaths and extra checks as opposed to the current system of reading banns out in the church the weeks before the ceremony.
The church is concerned that it became a soft target for organised gangs hoping to exploit loopholes in the law, and says the guidelines will give vicars a get-out clause if they are suspicious of a couple.
They will also make it harder for a rogue offender like Rev Brown to operate, although some of the sham weddings he conducted were organised through the licence process without alarm bells ringing.
Philip Jones, the Archdeacon of Hastings, said: “We welcome the new guidelines from the House of Bishops. It sends out a clear message to those that seek to abuse the system.”
Vicars will get training to help them spot dodgy couples, and the immigration minister Damian Green welcomed the plans which had been drawn up with officials at the UK Border Agency. He said: “The new guidance being launched today by the Church of England is another step in the right direction in tackling these abuses.
“Would-be fraudsters should remember that a marriage itself does not equal an automatic right to remain in the UK,” he added.