Couple get £21K for 'sham marriage' mistake that ruined wedding

Yanan Sun and Neil McElwee Image copyright Other
Image caption Yanan Sun and Neil McElwee were wrongly arrested during their wedding

A couple wrongly arrested moments before their wedding ceremony have been awarded more than £21,000 in compensation.

Police mistakenly believed the couple were holding a "sham marriage" for immigration purposes at the Guildhall in Londonderry in July 2011.

Yanan Sun McElwee was awarded £12,500 and her husband Neil McElwee was awarded £9,000.

A police officer told the court he deeply regretted what had happened.

Mr McElwee told the court he had met Yanan Sun, who is originally from China, in 2010.

When they discovered she was pregnant ten months later, they decided to bring forward their wedding plans.

Image caption The couple now have two children

He said all the necessary paperwork had been checked by their solicitor, who was among 50 guests who had arrived at the Guildhall for their registry office wedding.

When they arrived they were asked to enter a small side room. Inside was the arresting officer, who was accompanied by four other officers. Members of the tactical support group were on standby.

Mr McElwee said: "It was surreal. I could not believe what was happening. Yanan was absolutely in bits and I felt angry because I was powerless to help her.

"I could tell by looking at the police officers that they knew they had got it wrong, I knew by their faces, they looked disheartened."

He said he heard another officer in the station saying to the arresting officers, "I don't see eggs on your face yet, boys".

Mr McElwee said he told his best man to go ahead with the reception at a Castlederg hotel.

They were married the day after their arrest, both dressed in casual clothing, in the same registry office.

The couple now have two daughters and live in Derry.

'Sensitive'

Mrs McElwee said that as a result of the disruption to her wedding, she had received counselling and was afraid to open the door to people calling to her house.

A police officer said he had carried out the arrest operation after reading correspondence from the UK Border Agency that morning.

"I had a decision to make, arrest the couple or not. After I had spoken to an officer in the Border Agency and read the documentation that he had sent me, I had no real option but to arrest the couple.

"I knew the arrests were going to be sensitive. When the couple arrived I told them I was in receipt of information which suggested a breach of the immigration legislation was about to take place.

"I regret this matter deeply as to what happened."

Three officers were disciplined in 2012 following a Police Ombudsman investigation.

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