The Revd Canon Dr John Magumba married a stream of Nigerian men to EU citizens giving them a “golden ticket” to stay in Britain, a court heard.At one point he was conducting so many weddings involving foreigners that he was put him in charge of a committee of diocesan working party on how to handle the issue – including how to spot sham relationships, Bolton Crown Court heard.
He “asked no questions” despite a dramatic surge in African men choosing his churches in Greater Manchester to marry Polish, Slovak or Czech women.The father-of-six, originally from Uganda, was serving as a team vicar in the parishes of St Mary’s in Rochdale, St Peter’s in Newbold and St Luke’s in Deeplish when the bogus weddings took place between 2007 and last year.
He evaded internal church safeguards by conducting some in secret and failing to read the banns for others or to check the addresses which had been given by the parties. His activities only came to light when police and UK Border Agency officials investigating a separate suspected sham marriage came across his church records and noticed a sudden spike in weddings.While there were no marriages recorded at St Peter’s from 1996 to 2007 there were 20 between April 2008 and February 2011.When addresses given for couples in the registers were checked, it emerged that they often did not exist.
He married one “groom” and another “bride” twice in the space of weeks and another man was issued with three separate marriage certificates.There were also entries in registers with missing certificates that could not be traced.At one church there were two weddings recorded as taking place within two hours on October 3, 2009.In fact there had been a coffee morning to raise money for cancer research at the same time yet no one who attended remembered seeing a bride or groom.It later emerged that questions had been raised by parishioners but brushed aside.
When the same name for one bride appeared twice in the register, spotted by the church warden, Magumba claimed they were twins and said it was common practice in Africa for twins to be given the same name.In total police uncovered 28 bogus weddings carried out by him.He also pocketed more than £8,000 from marriage fees which were never passed on to parish funds.The court heard he had often struggled with his finances, asking for crisis loans from the parish to buy his children clothes and accepting cash gifts from worshippers.
He pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to one count of conspiracy to facilitate a breach of UK immigration law and two counts of theft from the churches by not declaring income from weddings and funerals.But Hunter Gray, defending, told the court his motive had been a “misguided conscience” to help desperate people who Magumba said were “crying out” for entry to Britain.”He has spectacularly fallen from grace,” he said.“He will be remembered for his bad deeds rather than years of his good deeds.”
But the court was told that the effect of his crimes was likely to have cost the taxpayer a “colossal” amount.The prosecution gave the court an economic impact assessment of the health, education and other benefits used by illegal immigrants in the UK, citing a cost of £10,000 for a single person per year to £23,000 for a person with one dependant.Passing sentence, Judge William Morris said: “Whatever your motive for facilitating the fraudulent entry into this country of these individuals, neither you or anyone else in your place, can place your conscience above the laws of this country.
“Your offences have brought scandal to the church and let down your family and parishioners.”Magumba was suspended by the Church of England when he was arrested last March.Last night a spokesman for the Manchester diocese said: “Revd Magumba, as an experienced clergyman, was given responsibilities on trust.”This trust was broken and the criminal activity was hidden.” – The