Swoop on resort ‘sham’ wedding

Festival House wedding chapel on Blackpool Promenade.
Festival House wedding chapel on Blackpool Promenade.
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A bride and groom were arrested by immigration officers after they swooped on a suspected sham marriage on Blackpool Promenade.

The man from Pakistan, believed to be in the country illegally, was due to wed a Latvian woman at the resort’s Festival House wedding chapel.

But moments before the ceremony was about to start, the 26-year-old man, who had been living in Blackpool, was arrested on suspicion of overstaying his visa.

Home Office chiefs said suspicions were raised about the authenticity of the marriage by staff at a North West register office, where the couple had registered their intention to wed.

Immigration officers interrupted the proceedings around noon on Thursday as part of a “clamp down on sham weddings and civil partnerships”.

The groom’s 22-year-old prospective bride was interviewed by immigration officers, and has been released with no further action to be taken against her.

A Home Office spokeswoman said the union would have given the man the right to remain in the UK but he has now been detained, pending his removal from the UK.

Alison Wray, assistant director from the Home Office’s North West Immigration Enforcement Team, said: “We are working closely with registrars to clamp down on sham weddings and civil partnerships.

“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.”

Mrs Wray said the Home Office worked with a range of agencies to stop sham marriages going ahead.

She said: “In this particular case we worked with register offices to identify these people might be entering into a sham marriage.

“With them getting married on a particular date and time, it was critical we acted as quickly as possible.

“It would open the floodgates if we didn’t try to clamp down on cases like these.”

Mrs Wray said she hoped the swoop in Blackpool would deter other people from getting involved in sham marriages.

She added: “It sends out quite a strong message to try to deter other people from doing the same thing.

“Sometimes we can put a stop to sham marriages before the wedding day, sometimes it’s as it was in this case and stopped just before the ceremony and sometimes we let the wedding go ahead to try and catch anyone who may be facilitating it.

“In the main, people involved in the wedding aren’t expecting our intervention, though I guess it might be at the back of their minds.”

Blackpool Council’s Register Office moved from its base on King Street to Festival House on the Promenade in December 2011, with the first couple getting married at the new building in January 2012.

Couples can marry in the venue’s Tower View Room or the Sea View Room.

A spokeswoman for Blackpool Council, which is responsible for Blackpool Registration Service at Festival House, said: “We are aware of the incident.

“As the police have made an arrest it would not be appropriate to make any comment.”

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