A CLERIC who officiated at 150 sham marriages at least has been sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison.
The former Priest-in-Charge of All Saints’, Forest Gate, in east London, the Revd Brian Shipsides, was sentenced at Inner London Crown Court on Tuesday of last week. He had pleaded guilty to conspiring to facilitate unlawful immigration in February (News, 3 February), after his arrest in August 2010 during a UK Border Agency investigation.
Mr Shipsides’s co-defendant, Amudalat Ladipo, a Nigerian wedding “fixer”, denied involvement, but was convicted of conspiring to facilitate breaches of immigration law on 22 February. She was given a three-year prison sentence. Another minister arrested in August 2010, the Revd Elwon John, was earlier cleared of involvement.
Judge Peter Grobel, who sentenced Mr Shipsides, said: “Your important role in this conspiracy was a disgraceful abuse of your calling as an ordained minister of the Church.”
When officers examined the marriage registers at All Saints’ in 2010, they found that about 250 weddings had taken place at the church in the preceding two-and-a-half years. Most involved Nigerian nationals marrying European nationals, predominantly Portuguese or Dutch. During a similar period before December 2007, there had been just 15 weddings.
Andy Russell, who led the investigation for the UK Border Agency, described the scale of the abuse as “staggering”.
Prosecutors at the trial said that Mr Shipsides had earned more than £30,000 from the ceremonies. He failed to hand fees to the diocese, did not read banns, and submitted no records to the authorities. James Lachkovic, for the defence, said that his client’s actions were a “humanitarian gesture” to help Nigerians persecuted in their own country because they were Christian.
The diocese of Chelmsford, which had been criticised for failing to support clergy under pressure from bogus couples, has since arranged for them to receive training. A spokesman said: “We are proud of the hard work and commitment of our clergy and lay people and of the support they receive from their teams.”
The irregularities in the case of Mr Shipsides had been discovered during the Archdeacon’s visitation (Letters, 9 March), suggesting, he said, that “our established systems of oversight have proved to be effective.”