By David Gooderson
A woman called Gloria was born in Colombia, married a man called Dai Llewelyn and bore his child. Throughout their time together, he beat her up. The Home Office demanded evidence of her marriage and her husband's birth certificate as proof of her right to British nationality. Her husband refused to hand over his birth certificate and she was faced with deportation. She tried to trace his birth certificate but at St. Catherine's House she discovered that there was no such person as Dai Llewelyn and that he had given a false name at the time of the marriage.

She could not prove that she was married to a British citizen unless she could discover his true identity. The day she came home from the PRO and challenged him about his real identity he beat her up again and refused to tell her who he was. She escaped with her child to a woman's refuge and he then disappeared. Her deportation was threatened for late August unless she could find out who he really was.

His photograph was published in the paper and he telephoned, but refused to give his name or whereabouts. However, he did go to the police and the Home Office is now satisfied that Gloria is legally married to a British subject.

He had done nothing illegal. You do not have to produce a birth certificate to obtain a marriage licence, and you can marry under any name you choose provided there is no fraudulent intent. The marriage between the two people who attended the ceremony remains valid whatever they call themselves so long as neither partner is married already. This oddity in the law can lead to serious abuse.

Helen Ventress, a pottery teacher, was served with divorce papers by a firm of solicitors acting for a Chinese waiter called Robert Cheung. As far as she knew, she had never been married, but his solicitors refused to believe her. They said "we know you married Mr Cheung in 1975 and you were paid 250. It was a marriage of convenience so just sign the divorce papers." Her parents did not believe her either when she said she had not been married. They thought that she had done this for the money when she was a hard-up first-year student.

Eventually they did believe her and then she was sent a copy of the marriage certificate between herself, Helen Rebecca Ventress, and Robert Cheung, solemnised at Paddington Register Office on 3 November 1975. It gave her parents' names and address and her date of birth. She is the only Helen Ventress registered within 20 years either side of the date. The evidence against her seemed pretty conclusive.

Finally, Mr Cheung's solicitors sent a private detective to see her to try to get her to sign the divorce papers and admit she had indeed been married. But, luckily, Mr Cheung had taken photographs after the wedding. The moment the detective saw her he realised hat she was not the woman in the wedding photographs. Someone else had stolen her identity and married using her name, address and details. She did not recognise the girl in the photographs and was completely mystified. Then, studying one of the photographs closely, she recognised a young man in the background. His name was Glen Dixon and she had been at Ripon Grammar School with him, although he had been in a class below. She had no idea why he had chosen her identity but he knew her parents' address, as both their fathers had been publicans in Ripon when they were both at school.

Glen Dixon was found and the woman who married Mr Cheung in Helen's name was identified as Susan Begbie, Glen Dixon's girlfriend at the time. They had met Mr Cheung in a London pub when he was looking for a British woman to marry to gain British citizenship. They wanted the money, they said, to go on holiday to Greece.

Helen's case was taken up by her MP. She hoped to get the marriage struck out and her name removed from the register. However, there is no legal power to remove a marriage certificate from the books, even when the marriage is invalid (bigamous for instance). This marriage is voidable but one of the parties, Susan Begbie or Robert Cheung, has to go to court to void it. Even then, the marriage would remain on the register.

Helen's MP wrote to the Registrar General. He replied that in law Helen was not married and there is nothing to stop her marrying in the future if she so wishes. He went on to say that he would be instructing the Superintendent Registrar at Westminster who now has custody of the register to report the case to the police for such action as it saw fit to take. Helen never heard any more but she assumed prosecutions would follow. However, the Director of Public Prosecutions says the police did investigate but decided to take no further action. The DPP never gives any reason but it does not mean that no crime (e.g. fraud or perjury) was committed just that for some reason the police did not follow this case up.

Helen now wants to marry her boyfriend, Brian. There is nothing to prevent her but would like a declaration in court establishing in law that the marriage to Mr Cheung never took place. She has no money and is applying for legal aid. However, even when she has the court's public acknowledgement that she is not married, she bitterly resents that fact that there is nothing whatever she can do to get the record of the marriage removed or altered, nor can she get a note attached to the record to explain that the person married is Susan Begbie. Now it's only a remote possibility, but supposing in the future when we are all dead and gone that my grandchildren are due to inherit. It could be shown in the book that I was never legally married to Brian, as I had previously married Mr Cheung.

Divorce decree records are public documents available in the Principal Registry of the Family Division Court. Checking there, officials report that there has been no divorce, or declaration that the marriage is void, between Robert Cheung and Susan Begbie, either in her own name or in Helen Ventress's name. That marriage remains valid. Wherever Susan Begbie may be now, she may not realise that her marriage to Robert Cheung is still valid, whatever name she used at the time. If she has married again, or if she married again in the future without first obtaining a divorce, her marriage would be bigamous. As yet Helen has received no word or apology or explanation from her.

The Lord Chancellor's department says there has been an increasing number of marriages of this kind. A short time ago, one woman was caught clocking up her 12th marriage of convenience in a month, using false names at different register offices. It is all too easily done, without having to produce any birth certificates or any proof of marital status. Until there is a change in the law, it is well nigh impossible for an ordinary person to discover if the person they are about to marry has been married before; it is possible to find proof of marriage, but not of non-marriage. There is no note attached to a birth certificate entry that would lead to a subsequent marriage or death certificate. It is difficult to look up information unless you already have most of the information you are looking for.

Helen Ventress was alarmed to hear in her home town, Ripon, that Glen Dixon who supplied Susan Begbie with her identity had been boasting that there were many more girls who attended the Grammar School at that time whose identity he has used in marriages. Helen says of course they would never know, and there is no way they could look it up or find out until the day they are served with divorce papers.

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