St Leonards vicar 'ran massive marriage scam'

Image caption, The Reverend Alex Brown preyed on desperate people, the court heard

A Sussex vicar conducted hundreds of sham marriages as part of a "massive and cynical scam", a jury has heard.

The Rev Alex Brown, 61, of Blomfield Road, St Leonards, and two co-defendants all deny conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration.

Prosecuting at Lewes Crown Court, David Walbank said they preyed on desperate eastern Europeans and Africans who would do anything to stay in the UK.

Jurors heard Mr Brown presided over 383 marriages in four years at his church.

Mr Brown was suspended from his duties at the Church of St Peter and St Paul after being arrested.

Mr Walbank said: "This case involves, the Crown says, a massive and systematic immigration fraud.

"The heart of the fraud was the payment of cash sums to nationals of member states of the EEA (European Economic Area) and Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway."

He said in return for the money they were expected to wed African nationals, mainly Nigerian, in order for them to become permanent residents in the UK.

Marriage registers analysed

The court was told Ukrainian national Vladymyr Buchak, 33, of Anglesea Terrace, who had been living illegally in the country, was responsible for "cajoling and persuading" Eastern Europeans into the marriages of convenience.

Solicitor Michael Adelasoye, 50, of St Matthews Drive, who specialised in immigration law, advised the participants, the court heard.

Jurors were told marriage registers at the Church of St Peter and St Paul were analysed, during a joint inquiry by the UK Border Agency and Sussex Police, and a huge increase in marriages was immediately noted, with the vast majority believed to be shams.

Investigators also found a dramatic increase in African and Eastern European names compared with more traditional British-sounding names which appeared before.

It was also noticed it was always Africans who married Eastern Europeans, the court heard.

The jury was told Buchak had already pleaded guilty to a charge of using a false passport.

The trial was adjourned until Friday.

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