By Trevor Grundy
Religion News Service
CANTERBURY, England (ENI) The British border protection agency says it is helping clerics spot "sham" marriages after a priest was convicted of presiding at weddings that enabled illegal immigrants to remain in Britain.
"The U.K. Border Agency encourages individual church dioceses to make contact with their local immigration team to seek advice and support," an agency spokesperson told ENInews.
"The agency is continuing to liaise with the Anglican church to assist the clergy in identifying potential sham marriages and to encourage them to notify us to allow action to be taken where appropriate."
The Rev. Alex Brown was convicted on July 29 of breaching immigration law by presiding at more than 350 weddings that matched eastern European women--who have the right to live and work in Britain--with African men.
The court heard that Brown, a Church of England priest, married up to eight couples a day between 2005 and 2009 at his parish church in St Leonards-on-Sea in southern England.
Under the scheme, women from eastern Europe were paid up to $4,700 to marry men from Nigeria and other places. The spouses paid about $23,000 to be married.
"Clergy welcome advice on how to spot the signs of a sham application," said Lisa Williamson, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Chichester, which includes Brown's parish. "In the light of sham marriages over the last few years, both churches and (state) register offices have improved their processes."
During the seven-week trial, Brown asserted that the Church of England had not given him any training on immigration laws, or on how to spot couples trying to abuse the marriage system. He said he had repeatedly asked his superiors for advice.
Brown is scheduled to be sentenced in September along with two co-defendants: Michael Adelasoye, a 55-year old immigration solicitor from Nigeria, and a 33-year old Ukrainian, Vladymyr Buchak.