A SUSPECTED sham marriage ring operating in Blackburn has been smashed.

Thirteen people were held following a series of dawn raids in Manchester and Liverpool, accused of arranging and taking part in marriages in sham marriages between Pakistani ‘grooms’ and Portugese ‘bridges’.

Nine Pakistani men, aged between 21 and 54, two Portugese women, both 22, a Pakistani woman, 29, and a British woman, 56, were all arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to breach the UK’s immigration laws.

The weddings under investigation took place at Blackburn and Darwen Register Office, in King George’s Hall, Northgate, between January and June last year.

Nick Wood, from the Home Office’s North West Criminal and Financial Investigations Team, said: “These arrests are part of an ongoing investigation into a suspected sham marriage ring operation in Manchester.

“Where there are suspicions that a relationship may not be genuine, we will investigate and, if necessary, intervene to stop it happening.

“We are determined to stop migrants abusing the marriage system to cheat immigration rules.”

A sham marriage usually involves a non-European national marrying someone from the European Union in order to gain long-term residency, and the right to work and claim benefits.

The operation was led by the Home Office, which was supported by officers from the National Crime Agency and Greater Manchester Police.

Anyone with information about suspected immigration abuse can contact www.gov.uk/report-immigration-crime