The Independent London Newspaper
24th April 2014

Letters

Exclusive: 'SHAM MARRIAGE' POLICE STORM REAL WEDDING

Published: 7 November, 2013
EXCLUSIVE by ALICE HUTTON

BORDER police stormed a wedding at the Town Hall only to find that the service was genuine.

As the couple, a Chinese national in her 20s and an Italian man in his 30s, took their vows at the council’s registry office in King’s Cross on Thursday afternoon, flak-jacketed staff from Home Office Immigration Enforcement – previously the UK Border Agency – suddenly interrupted and pulled them apart for questioning in separate rooms.

The bridesmaids were also interviewed before the mistake was realised.

The couple, who met when working for Harrods luxury department store in Knightsbridge, had been flagged up by a registrar after they had trouble spelling each other’s surnames and because the bride’s visa was expiring in six weeks.

But after 30 minutes of rigorous questioning, red-faced government officials retreated and admitted their mistake.

The wedding restarted afterwards, Camden Council confirmed.

A spokesman for the Home Office, which had invited the New Journal beforehand to report on the raid to promote work being done to prevent “visa marriages”, said at the time: “It is either the best sham wedding I have ever seen or it is real.”

The bungle led to criticism of the Home Office for “operating generally on a basis of  mistrust” when it comes to international marriages.

Home Office officials said after the raid that they are “duty bound”  under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to investigate any “red flags” from registrars but that the couple’s answers to questions about their relationship and life had matched up perfectly.

They had genuine bookings afterwards at a restaurant with friends and a hotel room for the night.

One added that the fact the couple were “extremely good-looking” and  wearing expensive, tailored clothes, including a real Chanel handbag, would have been a clue that it was genuine as visa weddings are frequently performed by “mismatched couples”, who turn up for the service in anoraks.

Guy Taylor, of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, a charity which has campaigned for greater justice in UK immigration, nationality and asylum law since 1967, said there was a “loophole trend” at the moment of non-British citizens marrying EU citizens to gain immediate rights to remain in the UK.

But he added: “That does not justify them [Home Office officials] operating generally on a basis of mistrust. They do not take people’s sides. They automatically assume that people are out to swindle the visa regulations. That is their default position. That is what leads to this type of appalling mistake.”

He questioned why better background checks had not been made on the couple beforehand in order to avoid ruining their ceremony.

“It does devastate wedding days,” he said. “This is a life event where people’s expectations, money and energy are being poured into this one day and the Home Office don’t seem to care about ruining it by not making better background checks.”

A spokesman for the council said: “We are legally obliged to report  any suspected sham marriages or civil partnerships to the Home  Office. It is then for the Home Office to decide how to progress and whether to take action.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “Where suspicions are raised that a marriage may not be genuine we will investigate. On this occasion no action was taken.”

Of 2,800 marriages and civil partnerships at Camden Town Hall between January 1, 2012 and September 30, 2013, 94 were reported to the Home Office as potentially “sham”, a council spokesman said.

 

Comments

FLACK JACKETS

I wonder did they have their guns, tazers and the DAS standing by.

marriage is a contract

It is always some kind of a trade off. Traditionally it was to keep the cattle and the fields in the clan or so... When there was no possession (gathering roaming society) there was no marriage - no need for a contract. Love or family would go on with or without a paper. Genuinely love is in the marriage secondary to options/expectations and status. Love or romance abhor paper[haggling'] There is no marriage without haggling thus no marriage is a sham ...

Telling comment afterwards

"It is either the best sham wedding I have ever seen or it is real."

So even afterwards, the spokesman has not ruled out the possibility that it was a well executed sham. Remarkable.

Yay for classism

"One added that the fact the couple were “extremely good-looking” and wearing expensive, tailored clothes, including a real Chanel handbag, would have been a clue that it was genuine as visa weddings are frequently performed by “mismatched couples”, who turn up for the service in anoraks."

God forbid they had been poor or "ugly"

Morons

So these morons from the UK Border Force gate crash the one of the most important days in their lives .. and what . no apology! Are you kidding me! My advice to the couple is to sue, their day was ruined by flat jacketed incompetent morons, and if UKBA won't apologise, why not make them sorry?

A Home Office spokesman said...

If they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear.

Flak Jackets?

All that needed to happen was for one official to be present, and who would quietly raise their hand when the line "if anyone here knows why these two should not wed, speak now...".

Bang, no wedding, no visa.

If everyone present that day doesn't receive at least a bunch of flowers from the HO and/or Camden, then shame on the bloody lot of them.

Cretins

Tiny minds in flak jackets - did they think they'd be shot at by the wedding party?

Absolute cretins...

Lucika

imph. weddings are expensive things to plan and carry out, even when not remotely extravagant. there should be compensation to the couple for ruining it in such an aggressive manner.

I'll bet the registrar who

I'll bet the registrar who reported them on such flimsy grounds didn't apologise and that they still had to pay the registry office who organised for their day to be ruined

The saddest part

The saddest thing in all of this is that many - not just the knuckleheads who stormed the ceremony, but a lot of people in this country - would regard a marriage between a Chinese woman and an Italian man to be inherently suspicious, as if people ought to "stick to their kind". Pathetic.

Just about par for the

Just about par for the course. No doubt it was intelligence led!

Home Office Spokesman - "On

Home Office Spokesman - "On this occasion no action was taken." Does not a flak-jacketed invasion of a couple's wedding count as 'action'?

Reality TV Home Office

Absolutely shocking. There's plenty of time to check up on details before the wedding day. Instead the Home Office thought they'd get some cheap reality TV style footage for the media. And, of course, there's no apology. Government agencies have a right to do their jobs, they don't have a right to act like idiots and expect their pathetic excuses to wash. London is a wonderfully multicultural city, incidents like this don't improve London's image.

"A spokesman for the Home

"A spokesman for the Home Office.." do please name and shame this prat.

Who are really to blame?

It's in the story but hidden -- Camden Council reported to the Home Office. Their people should have known better when the couple turned up to identify themselves before the ceremony. Hooray for Camden!

Are red flags even helpful?

More stats please : at the end you write that 94 of 2800 weddings were red-flagged, but how many of those 94 were found to be shams? How many across the country? Ie is it really that significant a problem?
Also, flak jackets? Really? Do they fear brides are concealing weapons under dresses? That guests are bringing shrapnel instead of confetti? O.o

The baffling thing is that

The baffling thing is that the officers chose to crash the wedding ceremony itself when they didn't have to. This was not an emergency where they'd just had a last-minute tip-off. They knew about this marriage sufficiently in advance to tell a reporter about it and have him come along. So why couldn't they interview the couple and others involved before the ceremony? Why all this macho nonsense of running into the ceremony itself, when they weren't certain that it was a fake marriage?

Good job Alice Hutton

Made The Guardian, too! We all know we will never see this on BBC, so thankfully we still have some real journalists in papers like this one, that put the things into perspective, at least for the few members of the public that still can read. Otherwise, all we'd be left with would be those xenophobic self-glorifying robotic bullies, accountable to no one.

Great journalism

Though I guess that Alice Hutton is no longer on the Home Office Christmas card list.

Spelling issues

Or maybe this is just an example of staff jumping on one detail and pinning all their suspicion on that. The bride's first language is not Italian and does not even use the Roman alphabet. Italian is a language where you quite regularly stop and ask yourself about double consonants; just look at how often cappuccino is misspelt, sometimes by Italians. A side-effect of being such a monolingual culture is that we lack an ability to see things from the perspective of speakers of different languages. This is best shown by the tardy recognition of the Home Office that tourist visa forms in Mandarin might be a way of encouraging more visitors.

apology please!!

I read they are refusing to apologise! How appalling of them....

Should be ashamed

Quote from above "staff from Home Office Immigration Enforcement – previously the UK Border Agency – suddenly interrupted and pulled them apart for questioning in separate rooms."

Can you imagine having your wedding day not only interrupted, but ruined, by these officials who could have quite easily spent less time and resources by doing a few checks before the wedding day... including finding out that they had a real reception meal and wedding night hotel booked.

I hope (but don't believe) that the 'Staff from Home Office Immigration Enforcement' dressed in their incredibly important-looking flak jackets, bought the couple a drink to say sorry. Absolutely unbelievable.

It was suspicious

She couldn't spell his surname, and her visa was about to expire in 6 weeks. And what makes it real? She wanted residency and a passport, marriage allows that.

Yes it was suspsicious

Yes it was suspicious. That's why they should have done some background checks, perhaps invited them in for interviews beforehand. It doesn't justify bursting in on their wedding.

What makes it real is that

What makes it real is that they genuinely know each other and are in love. What do you think makes a marriage real?

You're right that the circumstances were suspicious and the registry staff were right to alert the Home Office. What's wrong is the way the Home Office handled it, by choosing to invade a wedding ceremony that they had not already established was fake.

Also, as it happens, some names (especially foreign ones) are hard to spell. I've never known how to spell my wife's full first name, which is foreign and which she never uses.

Names

The difference is that she is taking on your name, so you don't have to know hers. Regardless, if you intimately know each other, then you should know each others names, I should think!

Re: Names

Why do you automatically assume that she is taking on his name? That is not a requirement today. Why do you assume it's OK that husbands "don't have to know" their wives' names? It's possible for him to take on her name instead. You've stated a couple of baseless assumptions in your reply. Perhaps you should work for the Home Office!

It was suspicious

She couldn't spell his surname, and her visa was about to expire in 6 weeks. And what makes it real? She wanted residency and a passport, marriage allows that.

Still, since independent and

Still, since independent and sceptical professional observers have determined their likely compatibility, they should have a great time.

Someone should be held

Someone should be held accountable for ruining this couple best day and it went unreported in all of the main media which would have blown it out of proportion had it been proved sham marriage. It is a real pity that non English looking people can get married in yhis country without having to consider official gate crashing!

accountable for ruining ccountable for ruining this

Of course! Theresa May, a complete disgrace and the cabinet member responsible needs to resign in disgrace.

accountable for ruining ccountable for ruining this

Of course! Theresa May, a complete disgrace and the cabinet member responsible needs to resign in disgrace.

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