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Tuesday, May 12, 1998 Published at 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK


Marriages made for money
image: [ 10,000 weddings a year in London are marriages of convenience ]
10,000 weddings a year in London are marriages of convenience

More people than ever are using marriages of convenience to avoid being deported from Britain.

The Home Office now suspects that 10,000 bogus wedding ceremonies take place in London alone every year to avoid immigration controls.

[ image: Ticket to European citizenship?]
Ticket to European citizenship?
A marriage abuse team investigates the trade, which can involve thousands of pounds changing hands between illegal immigrants and their would-be spouse.

Few people outside the immigration service know of its existence, and now a BBC documentary team has filmed their activities for the first time.

The team's work includes making late-night calls to homes where it suspects a couple are living a fraudulent life.

Officers quiz a partner about everyday items of married life which can often betray tell-tale signs that the relationship is in fact a marriage of convenience.

A large proportion of all relationships the team investigates are eventually found to be bogus.

If the marriage is proved to be false then the immigrant can face deportation back to their home country.

[ image: Mike Price:
Mike Price: "Hairy-chested man posed as bride"
"We have seen a case where the bride who was meant to be British was actually a man. In the wedding photographs you can actually see the hairs on his chest over the top of the dress," said the team spokesman Mike Price.

"We had others where the wedding reception was held in McDonalds and the husband and wife were the only two people present."

In one case, a woman was paid £1,000 to marry a man from Pakistan so he could present a UK marriage certificate to allow him to live with his family in Belgium.

The team suspect that professional brides exist who have performed numerous ceremonies for cash payments.

More power for registrars

But registrars have no legal backing to act against ceremonies they suspect to be sham marriages of convenience. Many turn a blind eye because they fear being sued if they halt proceedings of a marriage that turns out to be bona fide.

But Mark Rimmer, a senior registrar in London, is one of the few who has taken the law into his own hands and stopped a ceremony if he is suspicious.

He says he still probably carries out one bogus marriage every day.

"We've seen money changing hands in the car park after the marriage. We've actually seen envelopes passed to each other before they get in the car. They then get in the car and go in separate directions - they're the blatant ones," he said.

The Home Office is aware that this is a huge and growing problem. "For many who previously dealt in drugs, trafficking in people is now the business they're switching to because the penalties are less - and we've got to look at that - and the costs of doing it are cheaper. The profits are bigger," said the Immigration Minister, Mike O'Brien.

The government is investigating ways of changing the law to prevent the deception. One possible suggestion is to give registrars more power to halt ceremonies they believe to be marriages of convenience.

"The Marriage Machine" is broadcast at 1930BST on BBC2 on Tuesday May 12


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