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.