A vicar has been arrested after an investigation into 100 sham marriages.
Immigration officers swooped on the home of Canon Patrick John Magumba after allegations that he staged dozens of bogus ceremonies.
Investigators are examining claims that the 58-year-old churchman abused his position to marry illegal immigrants who had no legal right to remain in the UK.
Armed with their marriage certificates, the immigrants were then able to hoodwink the Home Office into giving them a visa, which allows them leave to stay in Britain as the ‘spouse’ of their bogus husband or wife and gives them full access to education, healthcare and welfare benefits.
Often the couples would allegedly drop the pretence of a relationship immediately after the ceremony and go their separate ways.
Magumba was suspended by the Church of England after it was informed of his arrest and the investigation.
If charged and convicted, it would be the second-biggest sham marriage scam to hit Britain after a vicar was last year jailed for conducting 360 bogus weddings.
Last night a Home Office source said: ‘It is a duty of every minister to read out the marriage banns in church and to post them for everyone to see.
‘The purpose of asking the congregation if they knew of “any just cause or impediment” why two people may not marry is another safety net to ensure a marriage is legitimate. The banns involve the vicar reading out the names and addresses of the people to be married at three separate Sunday services within three months of the wedding.’
A Church of England spokesman said: ‘The Reverend John Magumba was questioned by the immigration crime team over irregularities in relation to weddings.
‘He will continue to help the authorities with their inquiries over the coming weeks.’
He said that following proper procedures, the Bishop of Manchester, the Right Reverend Nigel McCulloch, had suspended the vicar. Last year the Rev Alex Brown was jailed for four years after being found guilty of carrying out the biggest fake-wedding scam Britain has seen.
He abused his position at his Victorian parish church in the seaside town of St Leonards, East Sussex, to marry 360 illegal immigrants to complete strangers.
Between 2005 and 2009, Brown married up to eight couples a day and was found guilty of breaching immigration laws.
He also pleaded guilty to solemnising a marriage according to the rites of the Church of England without banns being properly read.