Suspicious of the motive behind an arranged marriage, police officers in the United Kingdom, interrupted a sham wedding between a Nigerian man living illegally in the UK and a Portuguese woman.
Home Office immigration officers swooped on the ceremony, which was held at a registry office in Harrow, North London.
The man, 32, has now been sent back to Nigeria, and the woman, 22, is on bail until November 7.
Sky News reported immigration officers as saying the woman may have married for cash on three separate occasions. Police interrupted the marriage in front of guests and took the bride and groom for questioning separately.
It emerged that they knew little about each other and that the man was working in the UK illegally. Harrow Council leader Susan Hall said: “It is appalling to see the lengths some people go to in dressing up and organising guests for a sham marriage.
“A marriage is supposed to be the happiest day in your life. Well, in this case, the couple certainly got a day they won’t forget.”
The photographs and footage come after it emerged yesterday that one in five civil marriages in parts of Britain may be bogus.
One of the country’s most senior registrars, Mark Rimmer, said some 15,000 such ceremonies a year take place simply to get around immigration laws. Last year, the Home Office received nearly 1,900 warnings about potentially bogus unions.
But Mr. Rimmer, the chairman of the Local Registration Services Association, said that the figure represented “the tip of a very large iceberg”. He said that in urban areas, up to 20 per cent of marriages are “suspicious”.
He estimated that overall, 15,000 of the 173,000 civil weddings each year in England and Wales could be fake unions designed to evade immigration laws.
Registrars were powerless to prevent couples they suspected of faking their relationships from marrying and were forced to conduct the ceremonies “through gritted teeth,” he said.
Rimmer said the problem was worse at its high point in 2004 because laws drawn up since then to deal with the problem had been watered down by a series of human rights judgments to the point where they were “meaningless”.
Last week, ministers announced a major crackdown on sham weddings, with laws designed to ensure every potential sham wedding is reported and investigated before it happens. It also gives officials more power to delay the ceremony taking place by up to 70 days.
Official figures showed that the number of reported cases has tripled in the last three years, especially as immigrants who are desperate to qualify for citizenship status do all kinds of things to fulfill the laws.
In 2009, some 561 reports were lodged with officials, a figure which nearly doubled in a year to 934 in 2010. By 2011 it stood at 1,741 and last year 1,891.
Home Office officials admit that the figure is likely to severely underestimate the scale of the problem. They put the likely number of sham weddings at between four and ten thousand a year. But Rimmer said the problem is even worse than that.
“In an area like anywhere in London it is multiple times per week. It would not be unreasonable to say that 20 per cent of all our marriages are suspicious, have some elements of suspicion about them. Very often the ceremony is done through gritted teeth,” they said.
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