Eight people were held today as a 60-strong team swooped to smash a suspected sham marriage racket in Wolverhampton.
It came after a painstaking inquiry into sham marriages which has taken a year.
Eight people – five women and three men – were detained at six addresses in Wolverhampton. They included EU nationals and at least one British national.
Three of these – a woman and two men – were seized at two addresses just four doors apart in Dunstall Road, Dunstall, at least one other house in the street was also targeted.
The raids came after a year-long inquiry by the Home Office into around 30 suspect marriages. They took place at register offices as far afield as Gretna Green, Scotland, and Hull as well as Wolverhampton, over a two-year period.
Up to 60 officers from the Home Office, the National Crime Agency and West Midlands Police took part in the swoops.
The sham marriage ring targeted today is believed to have been operating mainly in the West Midlands and to have involved predominantly Czech and Slovak women and Indian men.
The bogus weddings typically occur when a non-European national marries someone from the European Economic Area as a means of attempting to gain long term residency and the right to work and claim benefits in the UK. They pay up to £10,000 to fixers with the bogus bride or groom collecting up to £2,000 or as little as a mobile phone as their payment for taking part.
Some are understood to be flown into the country specifically to take part in the sham ceremony. The Home Office estimates up to 10,000 applications a year to stay in the UK are made on the basis of sham marriages. At least three separate inquiries are believed to be underway into the racket in the West Midlands, which is the second biggest problem area in the country. Home Office Inspector Andy Radcliffe, who led today’s raids, said: “This is organised crime. It is not simply people helping each other out.”
A 20-year-old Czech man and 53-year-old Czech woman were detained in Dunstall Road. A 27-year-old British man was seized at a house in the same street. A 25-year-old Czech and a 23-year-old Czech woman were detained in Gratis Street, Wolverhampton.
A 35-year-old Czech woman was held in Bright Street, Wolverhampton, and a 33-year-old Czech woman was held in Carter Road, Wolverhampton. A 32-year-old Polish man was held at an address in Lowe Street, Whitmore Reans.
All are being questioned.