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Clerics’ actions stop sham marriages

02 November 2012

TWO priests prevented a Nigerian student from staging a sham wedding to beat the immigration rules.

Chimezie Emeronye entered the UK legally, but her student visa expired before her university course ended. She attempted to arrange a marriage with Pavel Gabco, from the Czech Republic, whom she had never met. Two priests became suspicious, however, and contacted the authorities.

The couple first contacted the Team Vicar, the Revd Tim Ferguson, in May 2010, at the Venerable Bede's, on West Road, in Newcastle upon Tyne. Mr Ferguson later told a local paper: "When I met them, they couldn't speak a word of the same language. It was immediately fairly obvious something wasn't right." He refused to marry them.

A month later, Ms Emeronye and Mr Gabco approached the Benwell Team Rector, the Revd Catherine Pickford, at St James's. She, too, was suspicious of the relationship, and told them to come back in six months when Mr Gabco had learned English. But they returned after three months, and Ms Emeronye produced a letter that said that she was living with Mr Gabco. The authorities were informed, and she was arrested at her home in Benwell. Mr Gabco has disappeared.

Last week Ms Emeronye - who married someone else while on bail - was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment, after she was convicted of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration into the UK.

In a report of the case in the Newcastle Sunday Sun, Paul Sloan QC said: "It is clear this type of offending, involving an attempt to frustrate immigration controls, as well as striking at the integrity of the institution of marriage, calls for a deterrent sentence."

Bill Donnelly, defending, said: "She has not been a burden on the taxpayer; she has been funded by her family, and has found work in accordance with her visa."

After the case, Paul Foggin, of the UK Border Agency, said: "We are cracking down on sham marriages all over the country. We will not hesitate to take the strongest possible action against those involved."

The couple were among 14 people who were arrested during a month-long investigation that involved registrars and clerics across north-east England.


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