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Vicar gets 4 years for presiding over 383 sham weddings

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An Anglican vicar who illegally married 383 couples in sham weddings was sentenced to four years imprisonment yesterday.

Reverend Alexander Brown, 61, was convicted of knowingly breaching immigration laws at Lewes crown court in July, along with Vladymyr Buchak, a 33-year-old illegal immigrant from Ukraine, and Reverend Michael Adelasoye, a 50-year-old evangelical preacher.

The majority of the marriages were between African men, mainly from Nigeria and Rwanda, and jobless eastern European women who had a right to live in the UK through EU membership.

"The European nationals tended to be migrant workers who came to this country in the hope of a better life but found themselves living and working in conditions of real hardship," said David Walbank for the Crown Prosecution Service.

The women were paid up to £3,000 each to participate in the sham weddings with African men desperate to remain in the UK.

The fraud was noticed after a "sudden and dramatic increase in the incidence of African and European names appearing in the marriage register," said Walbank. Of the 383 marriages that took place at Reverend Brown's church of St Peter and St Paul in St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex after June 2005, at least 360 of them had eastern European and African names -- a massive increase on previous years.

Brown denied knowing that the marriages were false, but at the trial jurors heard that some couples were unable to communicate in the same language, others produced rings that were clearly the wrongly size, and some applied to marry one person and then a few days later applied to marry somebody else.

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