A vicar suspected of being at the centre of Britain’s biggest sham marriage racket has been struck off by the Church of England.
In 2014, Reverend Ntege, 60, was accused of conducting a ‘matrimonial conveyor belt’ of weddings at St Jude with St Aidan Church in Thornton Heath.
A jury was told weddings at his church rocketed from six a year to up to nine a day – with chaotic ‘cattle market’ scenes of Eastern European brides who seemed to scarcely know their grooms hurriedly squeezing into ill-fitting shared wedding dresses in the lavatories. But despite the case against him being dismissed on the judge’s orders, he has now been defrocked after a Diocese of Southwark investigation.
A disciplinary panel has now ruled that the vicar pocketed £60,000 in wedding fees that should have been paid to the church and he should be struck off. They also concluded he had failed to maintain marriage records properly.
The reverend, allegedly married nearly 500 bogus couples and faced 14 counts of facilitating a breach of immigration law and one count of fraud.
The prosecution claimed immigration officials became suspicious of the ‘inordinate number’ of weddings at the parish church. But the case at Inner London Crown Court collapsed after the judge accused immigration officers of lying on oath.
Now the church has revealed the results of the church’s own investigation, which was sparked by a complaint made by the Archdeacon of Croydon, the Venerable Christopher Skilton. The report says Ntege was licensed as priest in charge at St Jude in January 2002 and became the vicar in February 2007. Between January 2007 and April 2011 there were 475 weddings at the church – compared to 29 weddings between January 2002 and December 2006.
The fees due to the Diocesan Board of Finance for the 475 weddings were £66,912 but ‘no fees had been remitted to the DBF in this period’, the report said. The panel concluded the vicar ‘had knowingly engaged in systematic wrongdoing over a period of several years.”
A Diocesan spokesman said: “The Revd Ntege has sought leave to appeal against the Tribunal’s decision and whilst this process is ongoing, he remains the vicar of St Jude and St Aidan, Thornton Heath. The Revd Ntege and family are still living in the Vicarage.
“The Bishop of Southwark, The Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, has suspended the Revd Ntege from his role whilst the decision is taken as to whether he may appeal or not and appropriate arrangements are being made to ensure that the people of the parish are receiving pastoral care.”