Buckley sentenced over fake marriages

Thursday 19 December 2013 23.11
File image of Pat Buckley, who pleaded guilty to conducting sham marriages in Northern Ireland (Pic: Photocall/Joe Dunne)
File image of Pat Buckley, who pleaded guilty to conducting sham marriages in Northern Ireland (Pic: Photocall/Joe Dunne)

Independent bishop Pat Buckley, who conducted 14 fake marriages to flout UK immigration law, has avoided a prison term.

The 61-year-old helped Bangladeshi men marry Portuguese women in Northern Ireland.

He was sentenced to three-and-a-half years, suspended for three years.

Mr Justice Mark Horner said Buckley was an important cog in the wheel of the conspiracy, but suspended the prison sentence after hearing his long list of medical problems.

Mr Justice Horner told Buckley: "What you did was wrong. You committed a series of serious crimes, which you did for financial reward."

The judge at Belfast Crown Court said the defendant had lost his hard-won reputation as a defender of the outsider and those shunned by society, which was bound to have hit him hard.

The offences were committed between 28 May 2008 and 2 September 2009.

Buckley pleaded guilty earlier this month.

The judge said he was paid a fee of between £300 and £350 per ceremony, much needed at a time when he was experiencing some financial difficulties.

The offences were committed after a television documentary on sham marriages and the judge said it must have been blindingly obvious what he was participating in.

They were ceremonies between EU and non-EU nationals who were seeking residency.

The judge said: "The crimes to which you pleaded guilty are not victimless crimes, nor do they constitute technical infringements of the criminal law."

A mitigating factor in Buckley being spared prison was his ill-health. He is HIV positive and has heart problems.