PROPOSALS from MPs to step-up action to tackle ‘sham marriages’ have been welcomed following as string of trials in East Lancashire.

The Commons Home Affairs Committee demanded new powers for registrars to stop suspicious weddings and better training to identify potential shams.

Chairman Keith Vaz said bogus marriages have become an “industry of deceit” increasing at an “alarming rate”.

Lancashire’s deputy police and crime commissioner Ibby Masters and Blackburn with Darwen social care boss Mohammed Khan backed moves to tackle the ‘criminal gangs’ behind the trade.

The number of suspect weddings reported to the Home Office rose from 934 in 2010 to 2,135 last year.

The MPs also recommended: l More publicity for successful prosecutions; l The Home Office writes to the embassies of countries involved, asking them to issue a warning to people not to take part; and l Registrars to have the power to cancel if they are “confident” it is a sham.

Sham weddings involve people from outside the European Economic Area marrying European Union residents to secure residence. In March 2013, five people were convicted of taking part in fake weddings in Blackburn to Vietnamese partners.

In March this year a suspected sham marriage ring in the town was smashed after 13 people were held following dawn raids in Manchester and Liverpool. In July, Vietnamese Dat Van Vu was jailed for six months, but walked free because of time served after being arrested preparing to marry Sarah Hesketh, a stranger he met while working on a Blackburn Market stall.

In December 2013 Sufyan Shahzad, 25, and Katalin Ottlyk, 30, were jailed for 20 months for a sham marriage at Blackburn Register Office interrupted by immigration officials.

Coun Khan said: “Tough action is needed against these criminal gangs who are trading on people’s misery.”

Mr Masters said: “I welcome any action to deal with this criminal activity.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “We are taking ever tougher action, including through the new Immigration Act, to crack down on those who try to cheat our immigration system by abusing marriage laws.”