Forest Gate vicar cleared over ‘sham marriage’ plot

A Forest Gate vicar sobbed this afternoon as he was cleared of involvement in a plot to conduct sham marriages to help African immigrants stay in the UK illegally.

Rev Elwon John, of Kennedy Road, Barking, a curate at All Saints Church in Romford Road, was found not guilty at Inner London Crown Court of conspiracy to facilitate breaches of immigration laws following a month-long trial.

The charge related to weddings taking place between December 28 2007 and August 4 2010.

The 54-year-old churchman, who has been suspended by the Church of England, collapsed in floods of tears when the verdict was delivered.

A second vicar, Rev Brian Shipsides, of Claremont Road, Forest Gate, faces a possible 14 years in jail after admitting a similar charge before the start of his curate’s trial.

The court heard Shipsides, 55, charged �140 for each bogus ceremony at the church.

The scam allegedly generated at least �30,000 in undeclared income for Shipsides - who appears in the Guinness Book of World Records for officiating at the wedding of the world’s tallest married couple.

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The so called “fixer” Amudalat Ladipo, 31, of Grosvenor Road, Dagenham, herself an illegal immigrant, also faces jail after she was convicted by the jury of the conspiracy charge.

The Nigerian, dubbed a “prolific and resourceful liar”, hooked up EU nationals with mainly Nigerian spouses.

Officers from the Metropolitan Police and UK Border Agency smashed the two-and-a-half year racket on July 31, 2010.

Both are due to be sentenced on March 14.

Speaking after the sentencing, Simon Prankard, senior investigating officer at the UK Border Agency, said: “This was a long and complex enquiry into what was an organised and sophisticated attempt to cheat the UK immigration laws.

“It was also an unusual investigation, involving a church minister, Brian Shipsides, who was prepared to abuse his position and the trust placed in him by the Church and his community.

“I hope this case sends out a message that we will not tolerate abuse of our immigration system.”