Four UK Border Agency officers have been presented with a Crown Court Commendation for ending an international sham marriage conspiracy that centred on the East Midlands.
Andy Radcliffe, Peter Copple, Kamal Hyare and Laurence Catcheside attended a ceremony at Leicestershire Police Force HQ where the High Sheriff of Leicester, Richard Brooks, presented them with the award on 15th August 2012.
At the same award ceremony, Leicestershire Police Chief Constable Simon Cole presented the Jubilee Medal to police officers in recognition of duty, heroism and outstanding investigative skills.
Andy Radcliffe works as an agency officer while Peter Copple, Kamal Hyare and Laurence Catcheside are Leicestershire Police officers seconded to a UK Border Agency Criminal and Financial Investigation team in the East Midlands.
The officers investigated a series of sham marriages at three churches in Nottingham during 2010 involving Dutch and Nigerian nationals. This led to 12 people being jailed for a total of 20 years for their part in the scam.
Andy Radcliffe, UK Border Agency's crime team said: “We are very pleased that our work to crack this major sham marriage scam has been recognised. The key to our success was UK Border Agency and police officers sharing intelligence and experience with each other as we worked shoulder to shoulder.
“We will continue to clamp down on criminal gangs that try to profit from organising sham marriages. Anyone attempting to benefit illegally from the privileges of life in the UK faces prison and deportation.”
The conspiracy started to unravel after UK Border Agency officers stopped a wedding between Dutch national, Ramsley De Kaster, and a Nigerian woman, Folfolashade Ladapo, at St Stephen's with St Paul's Church, Bobbersmill Road, Nottingham on 10th October 2010.
The bogus bride and groom pleaded guilty to conspiracy to breach immigration law and were jailed for 12 months and 18 months respectively on 25th October 2010.
On 2nd March 2011 officers swooped on addresses in Nottingham, London and Kent. Dutch police officers also raided addresses in Rotterdam and Tilburg on the same day.
The suspected ringleader, Phillips Onikoyi, a Nigerian national, was arrested in Nottingham along with suspected bogus brides, and fellow Nigerian nationals, Esther Abiola Idowu and Olujamoki Ikoyi.
Isaac Onikoyi, a Nigerian man, was arrested in Ramsgate on 2nd March 2011 while another Nigerian, Olushola Oshingbade, was arrested in Lewisham a few weeks later.
On 2nd March 2011 Wensley Quirindongo, a Dutch national, was arrested in the Netherlands. Four other Dutch nationals were arrested in a follow-up operation in the Netherlands on 16th March 2011.
All the five Dutch nationals were extradited to the UK to stand trial along with the other five suspects.
On 19th September 2011 all of those charged pleaded guilty except Ikoyi.
Phillips Onikoyi was sentenced to five years; Esther Idowu, Isaac Onikoyi and Olushola Oshingbade received 12 months each while the five Dutch nationals were each sentenced to 18 months.
Ikoyi of Beech Avenue, Nottingham, was later found guilty and sentenced to two years.
At the end of lkoyi's trial at Leicester Crown Court on 1st February 2012, the judge praised UK Border Agency officers for their thorough and comprehensive investigation into a wide-ranging international conspiracy.
A sham marriage typically occurs when a non-European national marries someone from the European Economic Area, including the Netherlands and the UK, as a means of attempting to gain long-term residency and the right to work and claim benefits in the UK.