The sentencing into eight couples from East Lancashire who were found guilty of forging documents to bring people to the UK unlawfully has begun.

However, those involved will not be sentenced for another seven weeks due poor preparation by some defendants' lawyers, which the judge blasted as "not good enough".

Laying out the case, Francis McEntee, prosecuting, explained how Mahmood Hussain, 56, of Chapel House Road, Nelson, had been responsible for forging documents and providing false information on visa applications, dating back to 2018.

This was in relation to the employment records of three people who wanted to sponsor their spouses to come and live with them in the UK from Pakistan.

Preston Sessions House heard how Hussain had forged documents for Qasim Khan, 31, Sakab Asghar, 34, and Sidra Ali, 33, saying they had all worked at his MOT garage in Garden Street, Nelson, on different dates between March 2018 and July 2020.

This information was then used as evidence to prove the defendants were earning the minimum of £18,600 a year required by immigration rules to allow a spouse to enter the country without becoming a burden to the state.

Late last year, a jury found Hussain, Khan, of Percy Street, Nelson; Asghar, of Aikman Place, Burnley; and Ali, of Percy Street, Nelson, guilty of the charge of assisting with the unlawful immigration of non-EU citizens, by providing false information on visa application forms.

The jury also found their respective spouses, Maria Khan, Sabeela Arshad, and Taimoor Ali, guilty of obtaining leave to enter or remain in the UK by deception, in that they knew about the falsification of the documents and information.

In mitigation for Hussain, Dominic D’Souza told the court that the defendant had a number of references from well respected people in society, including five councillors - whose names were not provided - plus a lawyer and a fire fighter, who all said Hussain is a respectable member of the Nelson community.

Although Hussain's bank account had nearly £369,000 in it at the time of his arrest, Mr D’Souza also told the court this was from the defendant's legal earnings from carrying out MOT tests at his garage, rather than from payment for these offences, with receipts from the DVLA.

He said: "Genuine families should not be apart. We as a community in this country should want them to be together.

"This is another case for the rich succeeding over the poor. To send him to prison for the maximum sentence would not be fair.

"He did not do this for any other reason than people coming to him for help and who were in despair."

In mitigation for Sidra Ali, the court heard she is a full-time carer who has full responsibility of her young son who is non-verbal, and immediate jail time would be detrimental to his development.

Other defendants including Junaid Ali, 30, of Manchester Road, Nelson, Asim Shah, 34, of Railway Street, Nelson, and Mohammed Uldin, 34, of Highfield Crescent, Nelson, pleaded guilty to the same offence, after the other defendants were found guilty during their trial.

Judge Andrew Jeffries said: "I have to adjourn the sentencing today due to issues with each defendant's counsel and their timings.

"This is not fair on the defendants or the court staff, simply because counsel's preparation was not done in time. It is not good enough."

The sentencing will resume on April 15.