EXCLUSIVE: The UK’s biggest sham marriage trial has collapsed with the judge accusing UKBA officers of deliberately concealing evidence and lying under oath.
The Home Office has revealed to Channel 4 News that three immigration officers have been suspended and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has been called in to carry out an investigation.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is to conduct a full review into the handling of the case and accepts it fell below acceptable standards.
The trial at the Inner London Crown Court centred round allegations that a vicar, and several church officials had presided over a “conveyor belt” of fake weddings.
The Reverend Nathan Ntege (pictured) was accused of conducting 494 sham marriages over four years at St Jude’s with St Aidan Church in Thornton Heath, South London between 2007 and 2011.
The prosecutor Edward Lucas had described to the jury that the number of weddings went up from six a year to six a day, with brides queueing round the block and sometimes sharing the same wedding dress.
I am satisfied that officers at the heart of this prosecution have deliberately concealed important evidence and lied on oath. His Honour Judge Madge
But, when immigration officers were questioned in the witness box, it emerged that evidence had been tampered with or concealed, possibly destroyed, video footage had gone missing, and an investigation log had been doctored.
His Honour Judge Nic Madge brought the trial to halt a yesterday, saying “I am satisfied that officers at the heart of this prosecution have deliberately concealed important evidence and lied on oath.
“The bad faith and misconduct started in 2011 when two of the principal defendants were arrested and has continued throughout the course of this trial.
“In my judgment, it has tainted the whole case. It has tainted the prosecution against all seven defendants. It is a case in which the prosecution should not be allowed to benefit from the serious misbehaviour of the officer in the case or the disclosure officer.”
Seven defendants were formerly acquitted of all 17 charges alleging various degrees of involvement with marriages of convenience in order to bypass immigration laws.
A Home Office spokesman told Channel 4 News: “The collapse of this trial is an extremely disappointing end to a long investigation.
“We expect the highest standards from all our staff, and clearly we are treating the judge’s ruling that our officers acted in bad faith with the utmost seriousness. Three officers have been formally suspended and the matter referred to the IPCC for investigation.
“It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”
The CPS told us: “We are now carefully considering the judge’s comments in relation to our handling of this case, which has clearly fallen below the high standards that we would expect.
“We will now be conducting a full review into the handling of disclosure and other issues throughout the trial.”