Vicar arrested on suspicion of organising 180 'sham weddings'

01 JUL 2009

An East Sussex vicar has been arrested on suspicion of organising 180 'sham weddings' for illegal immigrants.

The Reverend Alex Brown, 61, of St Peter and St Paul Church, St Leonards, was arrested following a series of dawn raids this morning in East Sussex. Sussex Police officers joined a team from the UK Border Agency to arrest four people, including the vicar.

The vicar was arrested on suspicion of conspiring to facilitate the illegal entry of people to the UK. He was also charged with solemnising a church marriage without banns being published. He will appear at Hastings Magistrates Court on Thursday.

A Ukranian man, a Latvian woman, believed to be one of the brides, and an Armenian male are also being questioned on suspicion of facilitation offences.

Detective Inspector Andy Cummins, of the UK Border Agency's Joint Immigration and Crime Team who led the investigation, said: "Today's arrests follow an 18-month investigation into allegations that nearly 180 sham marriages had been arranged at the local St Leonards church, allowing non-EU nationals to remain within the UK and EU member states.

"Search warrants were obtained and officers have searched premises and arrested three men and a woman."

A spokesman for the Diocese of Chichester confirmed Reverend Brown had been suspended from his duties pending the outcome of the investigation.

He said: "It is with great sadness and regret that the Bishop of Lewes has received a report of the arrest of the Reverend Alex Brown, the Vicar of St Peter's, Bohemia, St Leonards-on-Sea.

"The church has been co-operating fully with the police and other agencies in their ongoing investigations since the extent and seriousness of this matter came to light."

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