Couple accused of sham wedding still await answers

Yanan and Neil McElwee with daughter Isobel Mia.  (2701JB20)  pic. Joe Boland
Yanan and Neil McElwee with daughter Isobel Mia. (2701JB20) pic. Joe Boland

The young North West couple who were wrongly arrested on their wedding day and accused of embarking on a sham marriage say they still feel angry six months on.

Strabane man Neil McElwee and his Chinese wife Yanan Sun, say they still have many unanswered questions surrounding the events of their wedding day in July of last year.

“There is an anger that has stayed with us since that day,” Neil told the ‘Journal’ yesterday.

“For most couples it’s the happiest day of their lives, but we are left with a big black hole - we don’t have any wedding photos on display, we never talk about it,” he says.

Chef Neil and Yanan, who was around five months pregnant at the time, were arrested in front of more than 50 guests by the PSNI, working alongside the UK Borders Agency as they attended the Guildhall in Derry to get married.

Police have since admitted they made a a mistake; a report by the Police Ombudsman is now in the hands of the Policing Board.

The couple married several days afterwards in a low key ceremony.

Neil says the last six months have been especially hard for his wife. He says it has been extremely difficult to regain a sense of normality.

“My wife has not been herself since. She has become more withdrawn and scared at times. This is what they have done to us.” He says the couple want the UK Borders Agency - who as of yet have not commented on their case - to hold their hands up and admit they were in the wrong.

“We know that the Police Ombudsman shares our concerns and we are waiting on the Policing Board to comment. They say that could take up to three months.

“We hope whoever is responsible for what they did to us is held accountable and disciplined.

“But the UK Borders Agency is refusing to comment point blank on our case. We know that they faxed through papers for our arrest at 10am on the morning of our wedding. We want to know how and why those orders were given but they just refuse to comment on or explain their actions.”

Mr McElwee says the birth of daughter Isobel Mia, now two and a half months old, has been a godsend for them.

“Her coming has really helped us a lot, helped us, especially my wife, try and get on with life. But the whole events have really played on our minds, left us with a sense of anger. We just want them to tell us what it was all about,” he says.

The couple’s solicitor Karina Breslin-Carlin says she is both “disappointed and frustrated” by the lack of response from the Borders Agency and Home Office.

“To date they have still failed to make any substantive response and have basically ignored our correspondence and shown a complete unwillingness to deal with any of the points raised in our very detailed correspondence to them.

“The Police Ombudsman’s Office appear to have conducted a thorough and prompt investigation and our clients are satisfied that this has been done in an appropriate way.

“But the lack of accountability of the Borders Agency is very disturbing since they were the source of the information that led to the arrests and we therefore cannot be satisfied that this type of thing will not reoccur.” Asked about the prospect of compensation for the couple’s ordeal - during which they were held at Strand Road Police Station with some of their bridal party - Mrs Breslin-Carlin added: “The issue of civil liability will be dealt with following the close of the investigation by the Ombudsman’s Office.”