The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is to launch a full review of its procedures after a judge halted a case in which a vicar who was alleged to have operated a “conveyor belt” of sham marriages claimed that immigration officers concealed evidence and lied under oath.
Judge Nic Madge stopped the trial against Ugandan-born Reverend Nathan Ntege and six church officials following defence submissions that the investigation had been “shambolic” and characterised by “breathtaking” failures which led to an abuse of process.
He has now written to the Home Office and the Director of Public Prosecutions demanding urgent action to prevent a repeat of the handling of the inquiry and the subsequent 31-day trial, which cost tax payers hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The Home Office said three immigration officials had been suspended following the collapse of the case, which had centred on claims that hundreds of fake marriages were being conducted at St Jude's with St Aidan's Church in Thornton Heath, south London.
The matter has also been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
Judge Madge said the trial had to be stopped to prevent public faith in the criminal justice system from being undermined. All seven defendants were formally acquitted on all charges.
In his ruling the judge said: “In conclusion, I am satisfied that this is a case in which there has been both bad faith and serious misconduct on the part of the prosecution. I am satisfied that officers at the heart of this prosecution have deliberately concealed important evidence and lied on oath.
“That bad faith and misconduct started when two of the principal defendants were arrested, and has continued throughout the course of this trial. In my judgment, it has tainted the whole case. It has tainted the prosecution against all seven defendants.”
In his letter to the authorities the judge said: “On the face of it, offences of perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice have been committed.”
A Home Office spokesperson described the collapse of this trial as “extremely disappointing”.
“We expect the highest standards from all our staff, and clearly we are treating the judge's ruling that our officers acted in bad faith with the utmost seriousness,” the spokesperson added.
A CPS spokesperson said: "We accept the ruling of the judge that the prosecution case has been fatally undermined. We are now carefully considering the judge's comments in relation to our handling of this case, which has clearly fallen below the high standards that we would expect.”