Four arrested as police raid wedding ceremony

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The Independent Online

A 21-year-old woman was led across a city centre street in a full-length white dress and handcuffs today after a raid targeting a suspected sham marriage.

Police and UK Border Agency (UKBA) staff swooped on the ceremony in Sheffield Town Hall as a 36-year-old Afghan "groom" and his Slovak "bride" were preparing to tie the knot in the city's Register Office.

They were arrested by the waiting officers along with two guests.

All four were walked out passed bemused shoppers and into waiting police vans.

The handcuffed "groom" - thought to be a failed asylum seeker - was led out first wearing a single-breasted grey suit and being held by a uniformed and a plain clothed officer.

His "bride" followed looking clearly upset and dressed in a floor length white gown with intricate beading across the front.

Det Sgt Alisdair Duncan, who led the operation, said the raid comes after a summer of intense UKBA activity against suspected scam marriages which, he said, is beginning to see results.

He said: "The couple were due to get married a 10.30am and we've just disrupted that wedding - we believe an Afghan male and a Slovak bride together with a couple of guests. We've arrested four people."

He said: "The message is that we can disrupt these weddings. There are laws there and we're enforcing them."

Asked whether raids like today's are having an impact, he said: "There were quite a few weddings taking place but these have really tailed off now. So it is having an impact, yes."

"We've had so much publicity you wonder why people continue."

A UKBA spokesman said 53 sham wedding were disrupted nationwide over the summer. He said this had led to 118 arrests.

Jeremy Oppenheim, the agency's regional director for the North-East, Yorkshire and the Humber, said: "We will not tolerate immigration abuse and, once again, our immigration crime teams have shown that they will crack down on those attempting sham marriages.

"Our aim now is to identify the organisers who would seek to profit from this kind of illegal activity and destroy their criminal business.

"The UK Border Agency is working closely with registrars to identify marriages that may not be genuine. We do not expect vicars or registrars to be experts in immigration law or spotting forged documents - that's our job.

"But, if they have any suspicions about whether a relationship is genuine, we would urge them to get in touch with us."