Foreign brides and grooms held in 'marriage scam' swoop

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The Independent Online

Foreign brides and grooms were arrested on their wedding day in co-ordinated swoops by enforcement officers probing a suspected international marriage scam, the UK Border Agency said today.





Officers swooped on a number of locations in the Bradford and Manchester areas to arrest the Slovakian brides and Nigerian grooms before they reached the churches.

The arrests were made yesterday by Yorkshire's new Immigration Crime Team, comprising UK Border Agency enforcement officers and seconded police officers.

The agency said four would-be brides and grooms were arrested in the operation - two female Slovakians and two Nigerian males - along with four men from Nigeria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, believed to be the ringleaders, who are thought to be making up to £15,000 per wedding.

Six other Nigerian men were also detained on suspected immigration offences pending further inquiries.

The Churches believed to have been targeted by the gangs are St Philip & St James in Scholes and St Lukes in Cleckheaton.

In one part of the operation, officers were posted at Hartshead Moor service area, between the Brighouse and Chain Bar junctions of the M62, to intercept a number of Nigerian men as they travelled from Manchester towards Bradford.

Police intelligence suggested that two smartly-dressed men, thought to be the grooms, had arrived at a house in the Tameside area of Manchester.

As their vehicle travelled along the M60 and on to the M62 towards West Yorkshire, the officers, who were lying in wait, pounced.

The arrests were made at a service station and at locations in Bradford just hours before the weddings were due to take place.

Detective Sergeant Peter Gallagher, from UK Border Agency's Yorkshire Immigration Crime Team leading the operation - codenamed Latham - said: "We believe we have cracked an organised conspiracy in which marriage fixers and European brides were making money from Nigerian grooms desperate to find a way to stay in the UK.

"Any foreign national caught trying to benefit illegally from the privileges of life in the UK faces prison and deportation."

Jeremy Oppenheim, UK Border Agency regional director, added: "We will not tolerate immigration abuse and will punish those who break the immigration laws.

"Over recent years we have clamped down on sham marriages introducing Certificates of Approval, family permits and encouraged registrars to highlight suspicious cases. That's why suspected sham marriages fell from over 3,500 in 2004 to under 400 in 2008.

"Under the tougher rules, anyone trying to play the system can expect to face imprisonment for up to seven years.

"It is a criminal offence to be in the UK through deception and we will fully investigate any allegations that are passed to us."