Sussex 'sham marriages' vicar 'just doing job'
- 19 July 2010
- From the section Sussex
A Sussex vicar who denies carrying out sham marriages to bypass immigration law, went from presiding over just 13 to 383, a court has heard.
Rev Alex Brown conducted 13 weddings at the Church of St Peter and St Paul in St Leonards-on-Sea between August 2001 and July 2005.
Lewes Crown Court heard the figure rose to 383 weddings in the four years afterwards, almost a 30-fold increase.
Mr Brown said he noticed "a big jump" but took it as his "vocation".
Later Mr Brown said he noticed most of the couples consisted of Africans marrying eastern Europeans but could give no explanation, saying: "I'm not trained in immigration law."
The 61-year-old and two others deny conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration
In cross-examination, prosecutor David Walbank asked Brown: "Are you saying that in the period of October to December 2006, when you conducted 20 marriages, you weren't struck by the dramatic increase in the weddings you were conducting?"
Mr Brown, who denies conspiring to facilitate the commission of breaches of immigration law, replied: "I just took it as my vocation, that it's part of my vocation to conduct marriages."
He added: "Yes, it was a big jump. I noticed the jump. I was just doing my job."
Mr Brown said his suspicions arose in around April or May last year but suggested the high numbers of foreign nationals marrying at the church was due to "word of mouth".
He said: "Going back to that time I didn't take any notice about numbers. I was dealing with human people in a certain situation."
Mr Walbank asked whether he noticed that in the vast majority of cases, the couples marrying there were Africans to eastern Europeans.
Mr Brown said: "I haven't got an explanation for that. I'm not trained in immigration law. I can say that now looking in hindsight."
Earlier, he told the court he felt pressured by the "constant train" of foreign nationals coming to him wanting to get married and would lead to him drinking up to three pints of cider an evening, but he denied touching spirits.
He said: "It was the pressure of work and the constant harassment of applicants
"They didn't want to wait for a marriage. They wanted it the next day or the next week."
His co-defendants are solicitor and pastor Michael Adelasoye, 50, and Vladymyr Buchak, 33, who have also pleaded not guilty.
It is alleged they arranged for eastern Europeans to be paid to marry Africans so they could stay in the UK.
The trial continues.