A PRIEST in south London accused of presiding over a succession
of sham marriages has returned to his parish after the collapse of
his trial last week. The priest, the Revd Nathan Ntege, had been
suspended from the parish, St Jude with St Aidan, Thornton Heath,
for three years.
His Honour Judge Madge halted the trial at the Inner London
Crown Court, saying that "officers at the heart of this prosecution
have deliberately concealed important information, and lied on
The judge made his decision after the defence argued that UK
Border Agency (UKBA) officials in charge of the investigation had
destroyed and tampered with evidence, altered the investigation
log, and acted dishonestly. One of the officials was said to have
accessed "racist material" on Facebook: an image of a children's TV
character with the slogan Peppa Pig Against Muslims.
The judge said that "bad faith and misconduct" by the officers
began at the start of the investigation, and had "continued
throughout the course of this trial. In my judgement, it has
tainted the whole case [and] the prosecution should not be allowed
to benefit from the serious misbehaviour of the officer in the
case, or the disclosure officer."
Describing the case as "exceptional", the judge said that "it
would be unfair for the defendants to continue to be tried. If the
trial were to be permitted to continue, there is a real risk that
public faith in the criminal-justice system would be undermined."
Three officials, suspended by the Home Office, are being
investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
In the dock with Mr Ntege were a church secretary, Maudlyn
Riviere, and a verger, Brian Miller; as well as four so-called
"fixers": Galina Petkova, Georgia Forteath, Innocent Odoh, and
Angela Pelachie. The case against all seven has collapsed.
Before the trial was stopped, the prosecutor, Edward Lucas, told
the jury that the number of weddings at St Jude and St Aidan's had
increased from six a year in 2005, before Mr Ntege's arrival, to
six a day. In 2010 more than 200 had taken place (News,
25 January 2013; 12 September
2014). The prosecution alleged that, in all, there had been 494
sham marriages. "Couples were simply processed by the . . . team,
like a matrimonial conveyor belt," Mr Lucas said. Mr Ntege had also
been accused of diverting £70,000 of wedding fees from the diocese
to his native Uganda.
Returning to his church on Sunday, Mr Ntege refused to answer
journalists' questions, but said that he and his wife would be
taking a holiday.
The Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Revd Jonathan Clark, urged the
congregation "to focus not on whatever happened or didn't happen in
court, not on the UK Border Agency, not on other people in the
church or in your community, but . . . on God and God's love", the
Daily Mail reported.
A spokesman for Southwark diocese, in a statement, said that the
diocese had "co-operated fully with the UKBA inquiry, and it is
very regrettable that after such a long period the conduct of the
investigation has been found to be an abuse of process,"
"As the case has been stayed, the Revd Nathan Ntege has the
right to return to work. The Bishop of Southwark has already met
with him to discuss supervision, oversight, and support. . . The
diocese takes seriously its obligation to ensure the clergy are
regularly offered up-to-date advice and training in both their
legal and financial responsibilities." Mr Ntege has been offered
such training in the past, and the diocese hopes that the renewed
offer will be accepted."
A new law that comes into force early next year will prohibit
the use of banns before a C of E wedding that involves a foreign
national from a country outside Switzerland and the EEA. In future,
marriages involving such foreigners will require an Archbishop's
special licence, or a certificate issued by a superintendent
registrar (News, 18
October 2013, 25 October 2013).