A vicar has been arrested after an investigation into 100 sham marriages.
Immigration officers swooped on the home of Canon Patrick John Magumba after allegations that he staged dozens of bogus ceremonies.
Investigators are examining claims that the 58-year-old churchman abused his position to marry illegal immigrants who had no legal right to remain in the UK.
Armed with their marriage certificates, the immigrants were then able to hoodwink the Home Office into giving them a visa, which allows them leave to stay in Britain as the ‘spouse’ of their bogus husband or wife and gives them full access to education, healthcare and welfare benefits.
Often the couples would allegedly drop the pretence of a relationship immediately after the ceremony and go their separate ways.
Magumba was suspended by the Church of England after it was informed of his arrest and the investigation.
If charged and convicted, it would be the second-biggest sham marriage scam to hit Britain after a vicar was last year jailed for conducting 360 bogus weddings.
Last night a Home Office source said: ‘It is a duty of every minister to read out the marriage banns in church and to post them for everyone to see.
‘The purpose of asking the congregation if they knew of “any just cause or impediment” why two people may not marry is another safety net to ensure a marriage is legitimate. The banns involve the vicar reading out the names and addresses of the people to be married at three separate Sunday services within three months of the wedding.’
Immigration investigators are examining allegations that marriage banns were not read out by the vicar for ceremonies involving immigrants.
Magumba, who is originally from Uganda, is team vicar for the South Rochdale team ministry, which covers three churches in the area, and has been suspended on full pay by church leaders.
Officers swooped at his home in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, last Thursday. A UK Border Agency spokesman said: ‘The UK Border Agency arrested a 58-year-old man in Rochdale in connection with an ongoing investigation into sham marriages in the North-West. He has been released on bail.’
A Church of England spokesman said: ‘The Reverend John Magumba was questioned by the immigration crime team over irregularities in relation to weddings.
‘He will continue to help the authorities with their inquiries over the coming weeks.’
He said that following proper procedures, the Bishop of Manchester, the Right Reverend Nigel McCulloch, had suspended the vicar. Last year the Rev Alex Brown was jailed for four years after being found guilty of carrying out the biggest fake-wedding scam Britain has seen.
He abused his position at his Victorian parish church in the seaside town of St Leonards, East Sussex, to marry 360 illegal immigrants to complete strangers.
Between 2005 and 2009, Brown married up to eight couples a day and was found guilty of breaching immigration laws.
He also pleaded guilty to solemnising a marriage according to the rites of the Church of England without banns being properly read.
Rev Canon Dr Patrick John Magumba.
The Reverend Brian Shipsides and the Reverend Elwon John are alleged to have organised approximately 200 fake marriages at the All Saints Church in Forest Gate, east London.
The pair are accused of arranging the marriages, mostly between EU residents and Africans, to circumvent immigration laws.
The Rev Shipsides, who appears in the Guinness Book of World Records for officiating at the wedding of the world’s tallest married couple in 2001, was arrested in August last year at his vicarage. The Rev John was arrested at the same time at his home, in Barking.
The pair have been charged with conspiracy to facilitate unlawful immigration. If found guilty they face up to 14 years in prison. They will appear at Stratford Magistrates’ Court on Friday 25 March.
Andrew Hadik, the Crown Prosecution Service London reviewing lawyer, said: “Having considered a full file of evidence in this case, I have decided that there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to prosecute Reverend Brian Shipsides and Reverend Elwon John for conspiring to facilitate entry and to obtain indefinite leave to remain in the UK in breach of immigration law.