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09 October 2008

by Pat Ashworth

The bride is arrested at St Stephen's, East Dulwich PA

The bride is arrested at St Stephen's, East Dulwich PA

A BRIDE was arrested on suspicion of immigration offences after her wedding at the St Stephen’s Parish Church, South Dulwich, last month. The woman, from Portugal, was marrying a man from Nigeria, who is now in custody and faces deportation. She was bailed until 6 November.

Police and immigration officials had been mounting a joint operation in south London, and their suspicions were aroused when the couple left in separate cars after the ceremony. False papers were later said to have been found at an address in Syden­ham, and two men were arrested and sentenced by Croydon Magistrates’ Court.

Dulwich is in the diocese of Southwark, whose Registrar, Paul Morris, and Bishop, Dr Tom Butler, warned the clergy earlier this year that foreigners were using a loophole in the marriage laws as they apply for church weddings to gain the right of abode in the UK (News, 29 August).

Their warnings followed a steep rise in the number of applications for marriages by common or special licences, or by banns. These are exempt from new controls intro­duced under the Asylum and Im­migration (Treatment of Claim­ants, etc.) Act 2004, which require people subject to immigration control to apply to the Home Office for a Certificate of Approval to marry. Suspected sham marriages fell from over 3500 in 2004 to under 400 in 2007 as a result.

A diocesan spokeswoman said on Wednesday: “The churches within the diocese of Southwark take marriage preparation very seriously and try to ensure that all couples are properly prepared for marriage and their future life together.”

It is understood that the 37-year-old bridegroom had attended services at the church and made himself known to the clergy.

St Stephen’s offers a wel­come on its website to those wanting to marry at the church, and clearly ex­plains procedures such as banns. The Vicar, the Revd Bernhard Schüne­mann, writes: “The form, which you fill in to apply to have your banns read, is a complicated form and needs to be filled in truthfully.”

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