ENGLAND: Anglican priest accused of sham marriages appears in court

July 3, 2009

A 60-year old Church of England vicar, who is accused of carrying out invalid marriages, has appeared in court charged with aiding people unlawfully to enter Britain.

The Rev. Alex Brown of St. Peter's and St. Paul's Church at the town of St Leonard's was one of four people arrested after a series of pre-dawn raids in the Hastings area of East Sussex, about 64 miles south east of London, on June 30. The arrests came after an 18-month investigation by Sussex Police and Britain's border agency's immigration crime team.

The Anglican priest was charged with conspiring to facilitate unlawful entry into Britain and of solemnizing a marriage according to the rites of the Church of England without banns of marriage being published.

The court heard that since 2007 there had been more than 180 marriages at St. Peter's Church, the vast majority of them unions between European Union and non-EU nationals, many of whom had no right to stay in Britain.

Brown was given conditional bail to stay in the town, where he has worked as a priest for the last 20 years, and he will appear at Lewes Crown Court on July 17.

Due to appear alongside him is Bladymar Buckak, a 32-year old Ukrainian national, who was charged with conspiring to facilitate unlawful entry, carrying out an act intended to pervert the course of justice and using a false document. He was remanded in custody.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported St. Peter and St. Paul's Church was closed down following police searches. The newspaper reported that a handwritten note was pinned to the locked door of the church, stating: "All appointments have been cancelled for the foreseeable future."

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