22 in court over sham marriages

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A GROUP of 22 men and women have appeared in court after officials smashed a Yorkshire-based gang alleged to have staged sham marriages abroad.

UK Border Agency officials swooped on addresses in Rotherham, Bradford and Sheffield last year to arrest Czech, Slovak, Pakistani and UK nationals.

It is alleged the conspirators were flying women from eastern Europe to Islamabad in Pakistan as brides for would-be migrants.

The newlywed women were then flown back to the UK where they would submit applications for their husbands to join them.

It was one of the largest operations mounted in the region by the agency’s immigration crime team when the first arrests were made in Rotherham last February.

There were so many defendants when they appeared at Sheffield Crown Court that they and their interpreters spilled over from the dock into benches normally reserved for the jury.

Sarah Wright, prosecuting, told the court there were 9,000 pages of evidence but it was not intended to try all 22 defendants together and a decision would be made on how to split up those charged.

Ms Wright said some admissions had already been made and it was possible not all the defendants would seek trial.

Interpreters have been engaged speaking Czech, Slovak, Punjabi and Urdu.

All the defendants are charged with conspiracy to breach UK immigration rules. No pleas were taken at the hearing.

All defendants were granted unconditional bail to a hearing later in the year. The maximum sentence on conviction is two years in prison.