A fake bride, her “naive simpleton” groom and two witnesses to their sham marriage escaped jail yesterday when a judge suspended their jail terms.
Antrim Crown Court Judge Donna McColgan QC told 26-year-old fake bride Mudiyanselage Achala Wijekkoon, her groom Herbert O’Neill, 42, and their witnesses Zaffar Iqbal, 55, and 32-year-old Sarah Ann Dinsmore, she was taking the “wholly exceptional” approach because none of the usual aggravating features, such as being motivated by cash or the marriage being meticulously planned, applied to their crime.
On the morning their trial was due to start last month Wijekkoon, originally from Sri Lanka but now with an address at Stranmillis Gardens in Belfast, Iqbal, from the Waterside in Coleraine, and Dinsmore, from Rosemary Street, Roscrea in Co Tipperary, all pleaded guilty to conspiring together to assist illegal immigration on November 23 2012 by taking part in a sham marriage.
O’Neill, from the Bushmills Road in Coleraine, had pleaded guilty to the same charge during an earlier court appearance.
Yesterday prosecution lawyer Neil Connor told the court how officers from the UK border agency had learned of the impending sham marriage and swooped on Coleraine Registry Office and arrested the bridal party.
“Officers intercepted those involved before the marriage could proceed,” said the lawyer, adding that when the bridal party were separated and questioned, “it became apparent that this was not a legitimate wedding”.
Although the bride and groom claimed they had been living together at O’Neill’s home, Mr Connor said when officers searched it “there was no evidence of any female having resided at that property”.
While O’Neill admitted during police interviews that he knew it was a sham marriage, the other three maintained it was legitimate.
Judge McColgan handed Wijekkoon and O’Neill one-year jail terms, suspended for two years, and six-month jail terms, suspended for 18 months, to Dinsmore and Iqbal.