A Nigerian groom has been jailed for 12 months for a sham marriage where he picked Celine Dion’s song ‘The first time ever I saw your face’ to march down the aisle.
Hull University masters student Jayeola Abiola, 29, needed to marry to stay in the UK, and paid Portuguese Vania Pinheiro-Fernandes, 29, to be his bride.
They met for the first time at their dress rehearsal and he stumbled to pronounce her name.
So when it came to the big day he ordered: ‘The first time ever I saw your face’ as the soft love tune to be blasted out on loud speakers in Hull’s Guildhall to cement their bogus life
Vania Pinheiro-Fernandes bought her dress, tiara, wedding veil, and flowers from British Home Stores in Leeds for £245 with the groom watching, Hull Crown Court heard.
She had bought the dress two hours before the ceremony and still had 60 miles to drive down the M62.
Leeds law student Ayodeji Abbis, 25, was paid £1,000 to act as the best man. He was one of six people who turned up for the ceremony.
But the wedding plans turn sour. Officers of the UK Border Agency had been tipped off by the Hull Registrar that the couple seemed to barely know each other when they were interviewed at the rehearsal.
So Border Agency secretly filmed a wedding video of the cars, groom, bride and best man arriving outside the grand 19th century council town hall before arresting them at the door.
Jailing the bride and groom today at Hull Crown Court Gurdial Singh said: ‘It is often said sham marriages are too prevalent and strike at the heart of the immigration system.
‘Deterrent sentenced are called for and custodial sentences are inevitable.
‘You Abiola were in danger of becoming unable to stay in this country. It was ultimately a sham marriage and you were prepared to pay for it.
‘It was not a question of family and friends wishing to indulge love, to do you a favour.
‘You Pinheiro-Fernandes played your part and were to be the bride. You went along with this and bought the dress turning up at the ceremony.’
He said Pinheiro-Fernandes, a former air-steward, should be jailed for eight months because she played a lesser roll.
Abiola, 29, of Hull, and Pinheiro-Fernandes, 29, of Park Hotel Manchester, appeared for sentence after pleading guilty to conspiracy to breach immigration law by arranging a marriage so Abiola could remain in the UK.
The marriage was to cost £5,000. Around £2,500 was paid in advance and the rest was to be paid on completion.
Crown barrister David Bradshaw said Jayeole Abiola was a Nigerian student in Hull and his visa was due to expire a few days after the marriage. Knowing his visa was due to expire he paid Abiola Kumoye to arrange a sham marriage. Portugal being a member state of the EU entitled him to citizenship.
‘It was fake because he did not know her,’ said Mr Bradshaw.
‘He was not in love with her. He didn’t want to set up a loving family unit. He did it because he wanted to stay in the UK. The bride and the organizers stood to gain because they were being paid for their services.’
He said the Registrar Callum McDonald first became suspicious of the marriage at a meeting into the Wilson Centre in Hull on October 16.
It was to be a formal check of birth certificates, documents, passport, immigration documents and opportunity to pay the deposit.
‘The groom gave his proper name, but the bride gave a fake name when they spoke to the registrar,’ said Mr Bradshaw.
‘The bride did not want to be married in her real name. The registrar was suspicious because the bride didn’t look like her picture in the passport. He asked them both some questions. They were not very convincing in their answers
‘There was to be music for the bride to walk into,’ said Mr Bradshaw. ‘The song to be played first was Celine Dion’s: ‘The First Time ever I saw your face. It was quite apt.’
A poem was to be read by Mr Abbis. There was music for signing the register and music for leaving the room to.
Recorder Singh adjourned sentence for a report on marriage fixer Abiola Kumoye, 34, of Manchester.
He has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to breach immigration law acquiring criminal property £2,650 the first part of the fee for the sham marriage.
The judge also adjourned sentence on best man Ayodeji Abbis, 25, of Hunslet, who was found guilty of the conspiracy and received £1,000 for his trouble.
Det Sgt Andy Norris of the UK Border Agency said sham marriages have grown considerably in the country but the problem has only recently come to light in Hull. ‘People who think they can use Hull in this way will need to think again.
‘We are working to tackle this problem head on. We will find and arrest anyone carrying out these crimes, no matter where they are in the country.’
Mr Norris said there are benefits to all parties involved with arranging these scams.
‘A lot of sham marriages are arranged to allow people to stay in the country legally and that is the major reason people try to arrange these and why people are willing to act illegally to do so,’ he said.
‘Criminals who organise these fake weddings do so for a monetary benefit, sometimes thousands of pounds, and our worries are that the money raised from this could be used to possibly fund other areas of crime.
‘Fake passports and documentation are used to try and pull the wool over the authority’s eyes.
‘They often involve non-EU citizens who seek illegal assistance to get married in order to stay in this country.’