The London Daily Mail reports that the sting operation was launched after a tip-off by the priest, Father Tim Colding who became suspicious when the groom gave two different addresses on wedding paperwork. And it wasn't the first time Father Colding had rumbled suspicious couples about to wed. He said fraudsters were targeting his church in Thurrock because of its growing ethnic diversity and good train links with London and as a result he has reported more than 60 cases to the police.
He caught out one couple because when he asked the bride to repeat the vows, he began reading out train station names and she repeated them back. Father Codling said: 'I was asking the bride to repeat the vows and I just knew something wasn't right.
"So I started calling out the names of stations on the c2c line – Pitsea, Benfleet and Leigh-on-Sea, and the bride started saying them back to me.
"She clearly couldn't understand anything I was saying – I don't think she even knew why she was in the church." At Basildon Crown Court in Essex yesterday, Akinola and Marti both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to take part in a sham marriage and were handed 18-month sentences.
A Ugandan national, Abdallah Magezi, 36, from Plumstead, south east London, was jailed last month for three years after being found guilty of being the fixer for the sham marriage. Judge John Lodge, sentencing the bogus bride and groom, said: 'You were not involved in this to the same degree or level as Magezi, who got three years in prison, but both of you were involved over a period of time and in some detail in arranging a sham marriage.
"Akinola, you wanted to gain from it by staying in this country and Marti, in your case it was for financial gain." Police officers and borders agency staff were hiding in the vestry on the morning of the wedding and as Marti, from Rotterdam, walked up the aisle, dressed in a dark suit and white blouse, she and the groom were arrested.
The court heard Akinola from Tilbury, Essex, who also uses the name, Gafar Makanjuola, had suffered physical and mental abuse at the hands of his family during his childhood and had fled Nigeria for a new life in the UK. By marrying a European citizen he would have gained the right to live, work and claim benefits in Britain. Marti had been involved in a lesbian relationship for the past eight years and her worried partner had flown to the UK and reported her missing on the day of the fake wedding.
She is thought to have been promised £2,000 for her role in the sham marriage which she was planning to use to pay for her sick father's medical bills. The couple applied for their marriage bans on June 6 last year and were planning to marry on August 25 but the eagle-eyed priest noticed a problem with the paperwork and tipped off the police and Borders Agency staff.
Officers leapt out and slapped them in handcuffs moments before they were due to exchange their vows. Magezi, a father-of-one, arrived at the church in a minibus and waited outside the church. He fled when police approached him, jumped a fence and ran onto a railway line.
He claimed he was just a friend of the couple but did not go into the church because he was a Muslim. He claimed to be looking after Marti's ID card as a favour because he had deep pockets. He was found guilty of conspiracy to facilitate a breach of UK Immigration law at the end of a four-day trial at Basildon Crown Court and was jailed for three years.
Judge John Lodge told him: 'People have to play by the rules. Those who seek to circumvent the rules as you did, face lengthy custodial sentences." Detective Sergeant Andy Harvey of Essex Police said after the arrests in August: "Sham weddings are big business with the organisers charging £10,000 or more to arrange ceremonies and to pay 'brides' and 'witnesses'.
"The UK Border Agency and Essex Police are working closely to crack down on the criminals involved in these activities." Father Codling said the number of weddings he carries out had tripled following a government clampdown on bogus weddings at registrar offices. He said: "I think the vast majority of weddings we have at the church appear to be sham marriages. But the way the legislation works means if someone has been given a wedding licence I have to marry them.
"We can only stop weddings if we have reasonable grounds to suspect they aren't genuine.'" He said once a 'bride' stripped down to her underwear, pulled a wedding dress out of a black bin back and put it on in the church, even though it was too big for her.
Father Codling said he had refused to carry out weddings he believed were bogus and had his home broken into and his wife threatened as a result. He said since the raid in August there had been a noticeable drop in applications to get married at his church.