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Marriage rates fall 10 per cent after shams are exposed

21.02.07

Marriage rates have slumped by ten per cent to their lowest since 1862 after a clampdown on sham unions that bypass immigration laws.

The number of marriages in England and Wales fell to 244,710 in 2005, down from 273,070 in 2004, raising concerns that up to one in ten unions in recent years could have been bogus.

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In the three previous years, the number of marriages had been rising against a longterm decline. However, the figures suggest the increase was down to immigration rackets with crooked clerics charging up to £1,000 a time to conduct sham marriages, many in London.

Shadow home secretary David Davis said the figures proved the Government had badly underestimated the problem. Lib-Dem spokesman on church issues Steve Webb said: "This abuse of the system undermines the institution of marriage."

The data from the Office for National Statistics show that 2005 saw the lowest marriage rate since records began.

The number of marriages, rather than the rate, was the lowest since 1896 when there were 242,764 unions, in a far smaller population. The ONS said official moves to halt sham marriages in February 2005 was "one of many factors" that may have contributed to the fall.

After the clampdown, the number of register office weddings fell 58 per cent from 1,259 to 530 in Haringey, and were down 74 per cent in Brent and 51 per cent in Hackney. Civil marriage ceremonies fell by 13 per cent, from 184,910 in 2004, to 160,270 in 2005.

Earlier this month, Pastor Adeolu Magbagbeola, 60, who ran the Celestial Church of Christ in Islington, was given a two-year suspended sentence for presiding over sham marriages.

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