Ten held in 'sham marriage' raids

Ten people were arrested today as police and the UK Border Agency targeted an alleged international sham marriage gang.

Investigators believe that women from Eastern Europe were coming to the UK and offering themselves - for a price - as brides for would-be migrants.

The UK Border Agency's specialist Immigration Crime Team joined forces with South Yorkshire Police to carry out a series of early morning raids today on addresses in and around Rotherham and Manchester.

The operation - code named Razorback - was the largest to date with the aim of arresting the gang leaders and organisers as well as their would-be brides.

Unlike previous sham marriages, the grooms are not in the UK but based in Pakistan, investigators said.

The UK Border Agency said brides would fly out to get married and then return, submitting an application for their husbands to come and join them here in the UK.

Officers suspect that the gang thought this less direct route would be less conspicuous than attempting to marry here in the UK.

A sham marriage typically occurs when a non-European national marries someone from the European Economic Area, including the UK, as means of attempting to gain long-term residency and the right to work and claim benefits.

Those arrested this morning included a Pakistani man aged 25; a Pakistani woman aged 25; a Slovak male aged 19; and seven Czech and Slovak women aged between 21 and 36.

Detective Sergeant Alisdair Duncan, from the UK Border Agency Immigration Crime Team leading the operation, said: "Today we have arrested several suspects who we believe are part of an organised crime group and who have played a pivotal role in attempting to breach immigration law and in assisting others to do so.

"We believe we have cracked an organised conspiracy in which marriage fixers and European brides were making money from Pakistani grooms desperate to find a way to stay in the UK.

"Anyone trying to benefit illegally from the privileges of life in the UK faces prison and deportation."

Jeremy Oppenheim, Regional Director for the UK Border Agency in the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, welcomed the arrests:

"We will not tolerate immigration abuse and will punish those who break immigration laws.

"Our aim isn't just to prevent illegal migration but also identify and take out those criminals behind these immigration scams."