A couple from Derry, Northern Ireland were awarded £21,000 in compensation this week after being arrested on their wedding day by police who accused them of having a sham marriage.
Yanan Sun, from Shenyang, China, was six months pregnant when she and Neil McElwee intended on tying the knot in July 2011. Moments before the two were about to walk down the aisle at the Guildhall in Derry, Northern Ireland, they were asked by the Registrar to step into a small side room, where four plain clothes police officers were waiting for them.
One of the officers informed the couple that they were being arrested on suspicion of carrying out a sham wedding. Despite having proper documentation and a solicitor present in the wedding hall, the two were taken to the police station and put in handcuffs.
“When the officer said I had to accompany them to the station and change out of my dress I burst into tears. Even my big pregnancy bump didn’t seem to convince them we weren’t genuinely in love. I couldn’t believe anyone could be so cruel,” Sun told the Daily Mail.
The two had met in 2010 when Sun came to the UK from China to study English. After just weeks as a couple, they set a date to marry in the summer of 2012, but when Sun found out she was pregnant in early 2011, they decided to go ahead with the wedding that summer.
Sun spent around £1,000 on a dress for the occasion, and the couple invited over 70 people to join them at a £6,000 hotel reception they’d splurged on.
“Neil and I spent hours choosing place mats and table decorations, agonising over tiny details such as which tables guest would sit on. We even had our wedding rings personally engraved with matching love hearts. Like any young couple, we didn’t have a lot of money to spend but we’d saved up enough. And we were determined it would be a perfect day,” Sun said.
The couple, who are now married with two daughters, said they later discovered that the police knew they’d made a mistake after about 40 minutes, but it took four hours before the two were released from the station.
“Neil asked me if I wanted to go to the reception and at first I said no. I was so upset I couldn’t face it. I just wanted to go home. But then I didn’t want it to go to waste,” Sun said. “I even changed back into my wedding dress for photos. But I couldn’t bear to wear my wedding ring. And although I was smiling, inside I was devastated. In hindsight I don’t know how I managed to get through it.”
“When I saw our wedding photos I just felt upset. Although we were smiling on them, they were just fake smiles. They became a reminder of the trauma we’d gone through,” she said.
A police officer later admitted that he’d received a letter from the UK Border agency that morning but had failed to check their documents before detaining them unlawfully. Three of the officers were disciplined after the incident and the couple took the case to court.
The Derry court this week awarded £12,500 to Sun and £9,000 to Neil.
Sun said, however, that “No amount of money will truly compensate for my ruined big day.”