Vicar in court over 'sham marriages'

A vicar appeared in court today accused of conducting sham marriages involving illegal immigrants.

The Rev Alex Brown, 60, and Ukrainian national Vladymyr Buchak both pleaded not guilty to conspiring to facilitate unlawful entry at Lewes Crown Court, in East Sussex.

More than 180 marriages, mainly between non-EU nationals and EU nationals, were allegedly carried out at Brown's church in St Leonards-on-Sea in East Sussex over the past two years.

He was arrested at his home in Blomfield Road, St Leonards-on-Sea, in June following a joint investigation between the UK Border Agency and Sussex Police.

Judge Anthony Scott Gall fixed a trial date for both men on December 7. The case is expected to last two weeks.

Buchak, 32, of Anglesea Terrace, St Leonards-on-Sea, also denied two related charges in a second indictment of perverting the course of justice and using a false document.

Buchak was remanded in custody while Brown was granted continuing conditional bail.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Chichester said Brown was suspended from his duties pending the outcome of the investigation.