A gambian man is facing deportation after immigration officers burst in on a suspected sham marriage in Preston yesterday.
The 39-year-old, who had been living in Holme Slack, was minutes away from tying the knot with a 57-year-old local woman when the lunchtime ceremony was dramatically halted.
The would-be groom, later confirmed to be an illegal immigrant, was being quizzed today about how he got into the country before being put on a plane out of the country.
The woman, said to be from Preston, was questioned by enforcement officers and released pending further enquiries.
“We are working closely with registrars to clamp down on sham weddings and civil partnerships,” said Colin Berrington, assistant director of the Home Office’s North West Immigration Enforcement Team.
“This operation is another example of the success that we are having. Where there are suspicions that a relationship may not be genuine we will investigate and, if necessary, intervene to stop it happening.”
The couple are believed to have registered their marriage with the Blackburn with Darwen Register Office in the past few weeks.
But the Evening Post understands staff were immediately suspicious and the alarm was raised.
The service was due to take place shortly before midday yesterday at Preston’s temporary office in the ballroom of the Park Hotel in East Cliff overlooking picturesque Miller Park.
But moments before proceedings began immigration officers swooped and whisked the couple away. Two people, thought to have been acting as witnesses, were also questioned.
A spokesman for Lancashire Register Offices explained: “Our staff have a statutory requirement to alert the immigration service about weddings if something doesn’t seem right.
“There is regular communication between us and our staff will have known in advance what was going to happen in this case. All we do is carry on proceedings as normal until the immigration people turn up. I presume it’s a case of catching them in the act.
“I wouldn’t say these sort of raids are common, but they do happen now and again if there are some serious suspicions that the wedding is not what it should be.”
A Home Office spokesman said enforcement officers had acted after receiving information that the couple’s relationship might not be genuine.
“Just before the ceremony was due to begin officers intervened and the 39-year-old man, who had been living at an address in Preston, was arrested after checks revealed he was in the country illegally.
“He had been due to marry a 57-year-old British woman who was interviewed by officers and later released. The ‘groom’ has been detained pending his removal from the UK.
“The operation was carried out with the full co-operation of the Superintendent Registrar.”