London

Gay weddings targeted for UK citizenship

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Media captionBBC Inside Out exposes the gangs organising fake gay marriages for illegal immigrants in London

Same-sex marriages were made legal in March this year but within weeks of the legislation coming into effect, criminal gangs were touting sham gay weddings to those wanting to dodge immigration controls.

Inside Out London went undercover to expose the fraud and discovered one gang that organises sham gay marriages for £10,000.

The reporter posed as an illegal immigrant urgently seeking a sham marriage to stay in the UK, while another posed as an uncle.

Peter and Ricardo, the gang's leaders, boasted to the undercover reporters they had "fixed" weddings "lots of times".

They offered two potential fake Romanian brides to the reporter, both of whom explicitly stated they were not lesbians but were willing to pretend to be gay and marry anyone for cash.

Image caption A photoshoot for fake romantic pictures is offered as part of the sham gay marriage package

One of the girls, Alexandra, said she had organised six previous sham weddings and knew how to deceive immigration officers.

She said: "We have to declare we live together… That's not gonna happen but that's what we have to declare."

She said she could also arrange a "romantic" photo shoot of the undercover reporter and herself, designed to persuade the authorities that they were in a genuine relationship and said "we gonna like, hold hands, hold each other… we have to."

The number of reported sham weddings has trebled in recent years, according to the Home Office.

Image caption Gang leader Ricardo said he had never had a problem with police or immigration officers

Mark Rimmer, head of Registration and Nationality Services at Brent Council, said: "Here in Brent, the Home Office stops marriages on a weekly basis.

"In many boroughs in London the thought is that up to 20 to 30% of marriages are actually for the avoidance of immigration control."

But these statistics only account for straight fake weddings.

The authorities have yet to get to grips with sham gay weddings.

Mr Rimmer said: "I think it is probably more difficult to spot the signs if you have a same sex couple whether they be male or female."

'Easy for gay'

The gang investigated by Inside Out claimed that breaking the law by fixing sham gay marriages was easy.

Ricardo said he had never had any problems with the police or immigration officers.

He said: "You say 'I am gay'. No more questions for you. Easy for gay."

Minister for Immigration and Security, James Brokenshire, said what Inside Out London had uncovered was disturbing and he had ordered his enforcement teams to launch an investigation into sham gay weddings as a result.

He said: "Registrars will be given new powers later this year to better identify all fraudulent marriages."

Gay marriage was made legal in March in England and Wales.

In Scotland, a bill was passed in February, and the first wedding is expected to take place by the end of the year. The Northern Ireland Executive has said it does not intend to introduce same-sex marriage legislation.

You can see more about this story on Inside Out London on BBC One at 19:30 BST on 22 September and on BBC iPlayer for the next week.

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