A Church of England vicar who oversaw hundreds of sham marriages to help migrants settle illegally in Britain was jailed for four years today.
The Reverend Alex Brown, 61, presided over 360 bogus ceremonies over four years at his small parish church on the South Coast of England.
Over that period, the scam, thought to be the biggest of its kind in Britain, involved East European women being paid up to £3,000 a time to help the men, mostly Nigerians, by-pass UK immigration laws and settle in Britain.
At his Victorian parish church in the seaside town of St Leonards, East Sussex, Brown married up to eight couples a day between 2005 and 2009.
Jailed: Rev Brown, pictured leaving court today, is guilty of conspiring to facilitate the commission of breaches of immigration laws
Over a four-year period, the ‘massive and cynical scam’ involved women being paid up to £3,000 to wed to help migrants gain permanent residency in Britain.
He presided over 383 marriages at the Church of St Peter and St Paul in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, between July 2005 and July 2009, a 30-fold rise in marriages held over the previous four years.
During the trial at Lewes Crown Court jurors were shown photocopies of the marriage register at the church which showed that 360 out of the 383 weddings involved Eastern Europeans marrying Africans.
Brown was sentenced to four years in jail after being found guilty in July of conspiring to facilitate the commission of breaches of immigration laws, alongside solicitor Michael Adelasoye, 50, and ‘recruiter’ Vladymyr Buchak, 33.
Judge Richard Hayward also handed Brown a five-month sentence after he pleaded guilty to solemnising a marriage according to the rites of the Church of England without banns being properly read. The two sentences will run concurrently.
Buchak and Adelasoye were also sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for the conspiracy charge, while Buchak received a nine-month prison sentence for using a false passport, to run concrrently.
The judge told them: ‘None of you have pleaded guilty. You have expressed no remorse. I must confess I was hoping to hear from counsel for Adelasoye and Buchak that you were helping for altruistic reasons.
‘I have heard no such mitigation.’
He added that Brown’s role was pivotal to the conspiracy. He told him: ‘Your role was vital. Without you this conspiracy would never have been able to come into effect.
‘The couples involved beat a path to St Peter’s because both they knew and you knew what was going on, and you were happy to play your part.’
The judge said Brown persisted with presiding over sham marriages despite questions being raised by both the Archdeacon and rural dean about the high number of weddings involving foreign nationals.
‘Although you were helped by two retired priests, you never asked them to officiate any of these weddings and when you were arrested they stopped,’ Judge Hayward said.
He went on: ‘The participants were perfectly willing but this conspiracy involved the exploitation of two vulnerable groups. The Eastern Europeans had come to the UK for a better life but found themselves in poor accommodation and in hard and low paid jobs.
‘They were vulnerable to being exploited and they agreed to marry for money, although evidence suggests none of them received the full amount promised.’
He added that the Africans were desperate to stay in the UK and avoid being sent back to their respective countries to an uncertain future.
Andy Cummins, in charge of immigration crime team investigations in the South East for the UK Border Agency, said the three men were ‘involved in the biggest criminal conspiracy of its type ever seen in Britain’.
‘These sentences show just how seriously the courts take these kinds of offences,’ he said.
‘Reverend Brown knowingly abused the trust put in him by the Church, his congregation and his community.
‘His role was crucial in this scam. His co-conspirators took advantage of and exploited the desperation of others for their own ends.
‘As this case shows, illegal immigration can be big business. We are committed to tackling the criminal groups behind it, putting the ringleaders before the courts, and, ultimately, behind bars.’
The Immigration Minister added that illegal immigration was ‘highly organised’.
‘At home and abroad, we are tackling highly organised crime groups who make their living by trying to exploit the immigration system and breach our border security,’ he said.
‘Some of these hide people in lorries in an attempt to cross our borders illegally; some provide them with fake identity documents; others set up bogus colleges or arrange sham marriages.
‘Worst of all – some force women and children to work against their will in the sex industry.’
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