A VIETNAMESE man who was part of a failed sham marriage ring has been walked free from court.
Dat Van Vu, 25, planned to marry Sarah Hesketh, a stranger who he met while working on a Blackburn Market stall, to obtain British citizenship.
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Vu was given a six-month prison sentence for his part in the scam, but walked free from Preston Crown Court yesterday because he had already served the time on remand.
Vu and Hesketh’s wedding never took place after the bride-to-be got cold feet, the court heard.
It was part of a wider sham marriage ring which saw four East Lancashire residents jailed last year and four Vietnamese nationals go on the run including ring leader and Vu’s ex partner Trang Luu.
All the couples met in the nail bars Miss Nails and were caught out when officials received a tip-off the day after sham bride Amanda Nolan’s fake £1,500 white wedding at Whitehall Country Club, Darwen.
Vu, who arrived in the UK in the back of a van from mainland Europe in 2005, had been in hiding since 2011 until police arrested him in London in April this year.
While using the name of Tony, Vu met Ms Hesketh when the pair worked together on Blackburn Market, in 2010.
David Clarke, prosecuting, said the ‘couple’ sent a form to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) in June 2010 to begin the marriage process.
He said: “The form made out there was a relationship between the two and explained how they had met and how his residential permit had not been executed because of his poor English.
“Further supporting documents including passports, travel documents and birth certificates were attached. Bills and letters addressed to the couple were needed to support this further.”
In October 2010, Vu and Ms Hesketh submitted more details about their relationship and wedding plans, before police traced a sham marriage ring to Vu’s address in Castleton Road, Preston.
Mr Clarke said: “The defendant had lived there with Trang Luu. Papers were found in relation to Sarah Hesketh but Valentine’s Day cards between Mr Vu and Trang Luu - the couple with the valid relationship - were also found.
“A marriage certificate was actually granted by UKBA, however, as the police investigation extended in 2011, the defendant disappeared and wasn’t recovered until this year.
“Sarah Hesketh was cautioned for perjury by police and gave a statement on the events in March 2011. She explained she was a regular customer at Miss Nails, on Blackburn Market, and was offered a job in 2010.
“She was aware that a fellow worker called ‘Tony’ wished to have a marriage to stay in the UK.
“She was offered £10,000 if she went ahead with the fake marriage. She got cold feet and never went through with it.”
Further police investigations led detectives to Vu’s flat in Barnfield Road, London. He said he had been in a relationship with Ms Hesketh and that it was genuine but had broken down, and that he had never signed any forms.
Paul Bryning, defending, said his client fled Vietnam because his parents were persecuted due to their Catholic faith.
He said: “His grandparents arranged for his exile and he travelled through Europe and into Britain in a van.
“He presented himself to the Home Office and was placed in foster care. At the age of 18 he was provided with a National Insurance number and had to fend for himself.
“He knew at that stage he had to make an application to remain here and it seems he did not do so because of the language barrier.”
Mr Bryning continued: “He never relied on welfare or benefits and contributed to society through his employment.
“He is now in a stable relationship with a Vietnamese girl and they had a son together last year. He is now seeking to apply for residency through the proper channels.
“He spends his time at home looking after his young son and his partner is a student at university.
“This is not a sophisticated offence but merely an attempt to gain citizenship in an inappropriate manner. He is remorseful.”
Sentencing Vu, Justice Alistair Macduff said it was a ‘serious offence’.
He said: “I believe the appropriate sentence is one of six months in prison which will result in your immediate release.
“I wish you good fortune in your application for proper residency status.”
Vu, who sat in the dock with his interpreter throughout the hearing, was visibly delighted with the outcome.
Last March, Jason Procter, of Princes Street, Blackburn, and Kevin Donnelly, of Thwaites Road, Oswaldtwistle, were given 10 months in prison for their role in the sham marriage ring.
Denny Wallace, of Preston New Road, Blackburn, Gemma Nelson, of Whalley New Road, Blackburn, and Amanda Nolan, of Windsor Road, Blackburn, were all given suspended sentences for their roles in the plot.