My Big Fat Fake Wedding on BBC One

Panorama’s Richard Bilton investigates sham weddings in the UK and takes on various guises to expose all the links in the chain that helps immigrants stay in the country illegally.

It may only be a London register office on a wintry day, but it’s Ali and Maria’s big moment. Ali, from Pakistan, is marrying Maria, who says she’s Spanish, in front of a few of Ali’s close friends. Sadly, no one is here for the bride, and one of the handful of mates turns up in a London Transport uniform and admits he was only invited the day before and that he’s never heard of the bride.

This isn’t as surprising as it sounds: Maria isn’t even Maria. The real Maria is in Spain – the woman at the register office has used Maria’s identity for the purposes of the marriage. The registrar is suspicious but powerless to stop the marriage going ahead. So, within half an hour, Ali and Maria are husband and wife. Ali now has the right to stay in the country for at least another five years before the Home Office is allowed to check if it really is a love match. Ali and Maria’s wedding has been added to nearly 600 suspected sham marriages that happen each year. And that figure is rising.

This spring, a major barrier to sham marriages is abolished following a ruling by the Law Lords and the Home Office to stop checking applications for marriages between EU citizens and those from most non-EU countries. Panorama hears from people who fear that this decision means the floodgates to bogus weddings will be flung open.

In this Panorama Special, reporter Richard Bilton investigates an Eastern European gang that supplies teenage prostitutes as bogus brides for £8,000 each; the immigration solicitor who prepares the legal paperwork for sham couples; and how the Church of England, too, has been targeted by sham marriages.

Thursday 24 March
9.00-10.00pm BBC ONE