Vicar appears in court accused of conducting nearly 500 sham marriages in Thornton Heath

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by , Chief Reporter

A vicar accused of conducting nearly 500 sham marriages- possibly the most in UK history, appeared in court on Friday.

Reverend Nathan Ntege is charged with 14 immigration offences in relation to 492 marriages held at St Jude's and St Aidan's Church in Thornton Heath.

The 53-year-old appeared at Croydon Crown Court on Friday, with his 79-year-old verger Brian Miller of Owl Close, Selsdon, who faces the same charges, in relation to marriages conducted between December 2009 and March 2011.

Mr Ntege, who wore a dog collar under his suit while in the dock and Mr Miller spoke only to confirm their names and gave no indication of plea during the brief hearing.

The pair are charged with one count of conspiracy to facilitate unlawful immigration and 13 charges of assisting illegal entry.

It is understood the charges follow an investigation by the UK Border Agency's Criminal and Financial Investigation Unit, after receiving a tip off about the high number of marriages taking place at the church.

A third person, Gilena Petkova has also been charged.

The 50-year-old is accused of being a 'fixer' for the fake weddings and was allegedly married in one of the shame ceremonies herself.

Ms Petkova was arrested in December 2011, and is charged with conspiracy and five counts of assisting illegal entry.

She is due to appear at Camberwell Green Magistrates Court on February 7, but Tanya Ossack representing Mr Miller said the cases will then be dealt with together.

Judge Nicholas Ainley adjourned the case until March 22, when a plea and case management hearing will take place.

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