The BBC has launched its new investigative series, Kenyon Confronts, with a probe into the murky weddings-for-residence world.
In the first programme (BBC1, Monday Feb 26, 1930 GMT) reporter Paul Kenyon unmasks a gang that organises weddings for bogus couples in exchange for thousands of pounds.
Kenyon shows how the scam works with the help of an undercover African reporter fitted with hidden cameras and posing as an immigrant looking for a bride.
How rife is this scam? How did he plan his investigation? What was his worst moment?
Paul answered your questions in a live Forum. Click on the link below to watch.
Highlights of transcript:
This afternoon I am joined by Paul Kenyon who has just started a new series of investigative reports on BBC 1. Last night there was a programme on bogus weddings. Briefly, what was the programme about?
It was looking at the idea that foreign nationals come into this country sometimes just to get a UK or EU passport and basically they get married to somebody they have never met before for money.
So a marriage-for-residency kind of a scam?
Yes it is marriage for residency. We uncovered a great deal of it. The ones we found in the main involved certain types of nationalities who were specialising in coming into the UK, trying to find organisers who would set them up with a bride who they had never met before. They would pay quite large sums of money - sometimes a year's salary in their own country and out of that they would get not a UK passport - which used to be what the phenomenon was - but now they go for EU passport. If you get an EU passport it means that you live anywhere you want in Europe. With a UK passport the problem is that even though that used to be the fashion to marry a UK bride for money and then try and get a UK passport, there are a lot more strict checks from immigration if you do that. So now people have seen there is a loophole and they go for a EU bride - it is a lot easier.
N. Karim, India:
How did you first come to uncover this scam?
We started looking at a lot of registry offices around the UK. It is very difficult to prove a bogus marriage. We looked a lot in Manchester, Liverpool and London. We found the epicentre was London and then we started going to particular registry offices, talking to the registrars and asking them how suspicious they were about certain number of weddings they were conducting. We found a number of registry offices in London who would say - we have at least one bogus marriage here a day and we tried to go for a registry office where we thought they had quite a big problem.
Anthea Rogers, Malborough, Wiltshire:
How did you feel at the end of the programme because it culminated with you standing up and saying "This marriage is bogus and I want it to stop" but you befriended this couple. Did you feel any sense of betrayal?
I hadn't known them for very long. I hadn't been invited along as a guest. It would have been slightly different if I had got to know them over months and months and then appeared as a guest and then stopped the wedding. Because I set myself up as a wedding photographer, I would just befriend them before the ceremony. There is always this ethical problem whenever you do secret filming you are always trying to get on with the person that you are secretly filming. Eventually when you display who you are - when you come out and doorstep them or when they find out who you are --you can say it is an embarrassing moment but then they were doing something wrong and we were there to expose it. It is part of the job.
Kay West, Birmingham:
Why at the end, when you had all this evidence, didn't you get the police involved? Why weren't there more authorities on your programme?
If we had got the authorities involved several weeks ago and showed them our evidence then they may have arrested the people and it would have meant that the programme couldn't have gone out. The police and immigration know that this is going on, particularly immigration - it is such an enormous problem. They go round and pick their targets off one by one. But there are so many different targets that they are quite happy to let us do ours - but maybe they will look at our evidence now. We will see what their reaction is to the programme.
Patrick Malone, Oxford:
What would have done if you had been rumbled - had you got a plan?
I probably would have run away! No, it was pretty unlikely - even though these people knew they were doing something wrong they were more concerned about looking for immigration officers. They have look-outs standing outside registry offices - so that is what they were concerned about - a sudden arrest half-way through. Sometimes immigration officers do swoop in and arrest people in the middle of a marriage when they are absolutely certain that it is bogus. So it was the last thing on somebody's mind that they might be being secretly filmed. They were wary of me because I was slightly eccentric to them because I was this man with a little camera who kept wanting to pop into marriages. They just thought I was bit crazy.
Aren't you making light of the fact that in the whole of Kenyon Confronts there is always a moment when you confront bad people - that takes quite a lot of bravery to do that and often you are dealing with people who would easily have resorted to violence. Aren't you a bit worried?
I got hit last year and knocked out and it made me fairly wary. But all these things are planned meticulously. Whenever we do a "door-step" we have minders there and we have looked at all the security elements of it and we have judged when it is a safe moment to do it. We assess the risk value. There is always a slightly dangerous element to these things. But I am afraid to say that is one of the reasons people enjoy that kind of programme. Apart from the underlying important political and social issues about immigration policy and the ways of breaking it - some people do rather like the idea that there is this slight risk of violence at some stage. It is a very neat resolution to have that at the end - a "door-step" - it completes it.
John Pheasant, Derby:
What do you personally think about the legislation covering bogus weddings? Do you think the police should have more powers?
As a journalist I am not supposed to have my own personal view but we spoke to so many registrars during the making of this programme and what is interesting is that when you come to bogus marriages and that way of breaking immigration laws, the people on the front line are not immigration officers or police - they are registrars. So registrars have to make these very important decisions about whether they think a wedding is genuine or not. It is a brave decision. Even if they decide that they don't think it is genuine, they can't stop it. There is no legislation to allow them to go and stop a wedding just because they think it is bogus what they are supposed to do is report it to the immigration authorities and then the immigration authorities can do what they want with it. It is not necessarily more powers that the police and to immigration authorities need - they have quite a lot of powers already. The registrars feel they are there to marry people and they shouldn't be questioning people about their backgrounds and whether they really love each other and how long they have known each other.
Simon Moore, UK:
Why didn't you have a Government Minister on the programme?
If we had a Government minister on we would put our evidence to him and we all know that that Government ministers are very good at not saying a great deal. It really wouldn't have resolved it. We decided that it would probably slow the programme down and we wanted to show our evidence and if the Government wants to respond now then that is fine.
Steve Milligan, Slough, UK:
I am from Scotland and my wife is Czech before we got married she had to obtain a fiancée visa from the British Embassy in Prague, then we had to get married within six months, then she had to apply for an initial 12 month stay and then last year she had to apply again for indefinite leave to stay. It seems that the couples in the programme did not and would not have to go through that process. Can you elaborate on this?
My wife is Romanian and when we got married she had to go through exactly the same procedure. But some people do is give false addresses, sometimes false names, they have false documentation, they falsify visas - I am not talking about all the people in the programme last night but this is one of the things they will do. So given that everything is forged anyway and they may have turned up the day before and have a forged student visa - they shortcut the system. If you marry a European Union bride in the UK then you don't need quite as much of a demonstration of who you are and where you come from.
Mani Hebron, Brussels:
What was the reaction of registrars to the discoveries you made?
A lot of the registrars already know about it. The registrars in Haringey allowed us to film, they knew we were secretly filming in there and they were very open about it. I think their view was that it was problem that needs to be dealt with and it was about time somebody took notice. They were saying that although people had looked at this before in the newspapers - it is very difficult to be in a position to prove that a marriage is bogus. They were hoping that it would change the rules for them.
Lisa Schuster, London:
Why is it that investigative journalists prefer an easy but sensational story that makes life even more difficult for people who are often vulnerable and marginalised?
The immigration authorities find these people very difficult to discover and prove a case against as well and that is why you hear so little about it. No way was this an easy target - you might say that people involved are easy targets because they are vulnerable but we didn't doorstep the people involved in the marriages directly - we just doorstepped the organisers. The organisers are the people who are actually ripping off the people who are trying to come into this country illegally. We were championing the vulnerable.