Two vicars have been charged with arranging hundreds of sham marriages to help illegal immigrants gain residency in Britain.
The Reverend Brian Shipsides and the Reverend Elwon John are alleged to have organised approximately 200 fake marriages at the All Saints Church in Forest Gate, East London.
The pair are accused of arranging the marriages, mostly between EU residents and Africans, to circumvent immigration laws.
The Rev Shipsides, who appears in the Guinness Book of World Records for officiating at the wedding of the world’s tallest married couple in 2001, was arrested in August last year at his vicarage.
The Rev John was arrested at the same time at his home, in Barking.
The pair have been charged with conspiracy to facilitate unlawful immigration.
If found guilty they face up to 14 years in prison. They will appear at Stratford Magistrates’ Court on Friday 25 March.
Andrew Hadik, the Crown Prosecution Service London reviewing lawyer, said: “Having considered a full file of evidence in this case, I have decided that there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to prosecute Reverend Brian Shipsides and Reverend Elwon John for conspiring to facilitate entry and to obtain indefinite leave to remain in the UK in breach of immigration laws.
The Rev Brian Shipsides, 54, and the Rev Elwon John, 43, were detained in August by police investigating suspected fake weddings at the church in East London.
The Daily Telegraph told last week how police and Church insiders fear crime gangs are using corrupt vicars to exploit weaknesses in Anglican procedures and help thousands of African men and women gain residency.
It came after a vicar in East Sussex became the first clergyman to be found guilty of being complicit in a false marriage scam, last year August.
Previous inquiries have focused on those getting married but detectives are now investigating the role of vicars in fake marriages across the country.
The Rev Shipsides and the Rev John were detained following the arrest of two Nigerians and a Dutch woman suspected of arranging and taking part in a sham marriage at All Saints church in Forest Gate, east London, on Saturday.
The Rev Shipsides, appeared in history book ‘The Guinness Book of World Records’ for officiating at the wedding of the world’s tallest married couple in 2001, was arrested at his vicarage on suspicion of conspiracy to breach immigration law and attempting to pervert justice.
The Rev John was also arrested at his home, in Barking, on suspicion of breaking immigration law, and police swooped on their churches, All Saints and St Edmunds.
Detective Inspector Karl Amos, of the London Immigration Crime Team, said then that the arrests were part of an ongoing investigation into suspected sham marriages at a church in Forest Gate.
“We have also carried out searches at a number of addresses, and will now seek to examine closely the evidence that we have recovered.
“Our policy is clear – if we uncover evidence that a wedding may not be genuine we will investigate, and if appropriate, take action against those involved.”
Prior to the arrest of the vicars, a 27-year-old Nigerian man had been charged with perjury, attempting to gain leave to remain by deception and identity card offences.
The 30-year-old Nigerian woman was charged with conspiracy to facilitate breaches of immigration laws.
They appeared in custody at Inner London Crown Court on October 4.
A 23-year-old Dutch woman last year also admitted facilitating Immigration offences. She was handed a two-month suspended sentence and banned from re-entering Britain for a year.
Gangs, who have been operating all over the country, charge up to £15,000 to fix up the sham marriages, usually between Africans and Eastern Europeans, who go their separate ways afterwards.
The Rev Alex Brown, 61, was found guilty last last late year for carrying out 360 sham weddings over four years. Brown was thought to have carried out the weddings for cash and around £5,000 was found in his rectory.
Damian Green, the immigration minister, has said the Government is determined to crackdown on people who conspire to remain in Britain illegally.
Source: Mark Hughes, Crime Correspondent, Telegraph