Monday, March 09, 2015

More British Keystone Kops

Arrogant bastards break up a perfectly legitimate wedding on mere suspicion and without listening to their victims

For groom Neil McElwee and his bride Yanan Sun, their white wedding was to be their best day ever. Chinese-born Yanan Sun – six months pregnant with their first baby – had splashed out £1,000 on a stunning dress. And the happy couple had invited over 70 guests to celebrate at a £6,000 hotel reception.

But their perfect day turned into a nightmare when moments before they were due to say 'I do', they were both arrested – after suspicions they were having a sham marriage.

This week the couple from Derry, Northern Ireland, were awarded £21,000 compensation over the blunder – which also led to four police officers being disciplined.

But although they have since wed, Yanan Sun, 22, said last night: 'A wedding day is supposed to be the best day of any woman's life. But this turned out to be the worst day of mine. 'All the money in the world can never make up for spoiling my wedding day.'

And her husband Neil, 28, a chef, said: 'While we feel justice has been done we can't ever erase the memories of that terrible day. There was no excuse for the way we were both treated. I don't think we will ever get over it.'

The McElwees, who now have two daughters, Isabel, three, and Sybil, one, first met through friends in 2010 when Yanan Sun came to the UK from Shenyang, China to study English. Says Yanan Sun: 'A friend set us up on a blind date. There was an immediate attraction between us and when Neil asked if I wanted to go to the beach for a day out I said yes. 'Within weeks we were a couple and talking about spending the rest of our lives together. We set a date to marry in the summer 2012.'

But in February 2011 Yanan Sun discovered she was pregnant and the couple decided to bring their wedding forward. She says: 'When about four weeks after I found out, Neil woke up one morning and said he thought we should get married earlier, I was thrilled. We are both quite traditional and wanted our baby to be born within wedlock.'

A registry office ceremony was booked at the Guildhall in Derry for July 19th 2011. Meanwhile, invitations were sent to over 70 friends and relatives to attend a buffet.

Yanan Sun said: 'I spent around £1,000 on a beautiful long white wedding dress and had my hair and make up professionally done for my special day. We arranged for a wedding cake to be made, caterers to prepare a buffet – which included Champagne and strawberries - hired a BMW and taxis to drive the ourselves and the wedding party to the reception, paid for flowers with a florist, hired a photographer and a DJ.

'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.'

As she was about to walk up the aisle, Yanan Sun gave a little wave to Neil who'd been waiting. She recalls: 'I was so excited when I got there. I couldn't wait to marry Neil and get on with enjoying the day we'd spent months planning.'

However, as they stepped into the hall, they were asked by the Registrar to go into a small side room.

Neil says: 'I was expecting a chat about the ceremony or something simple such as not throwing confetti everywhere. So I was shocked to find four plain clothes Police officers waiting behind the door.

'And when one of them said we were both being arrested on suspicion of carrying out a sham wedding I was stunned. 'I protested our papers were in order – our solicitor was even a guest at the wedding – but no-one was interested in listening.'

Yanan Sun recalls: '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.'

The couple were taken to the local Police station where they were kept in separate cells. Recalls Yanan Sun: 'I was forced to wear forensic police clothing.'

As they sat in their separate cells, and the hours ticked by, both realised their wedding day was not going to happen.

Neil says: 'The feeling of helplessness – knowing my pregnant bride to be was sat on her own in a cell – was awful. It was sheer torment.'

They later discovered Police found out after only 40 minutes they'd realised the arrests were a terrible mistake – but it was to be four hours before their solicitor managed to get them released.

It was too late for their wedding ceremony but the McElwees bravely decided to go to their hotel reception and posed for photos. Neil says: 'I'd told my best man to carry on without us – after all, it was all paid for, the buffet was all prepared. We didn't want to let guests down, some of whom had travelled miles.

Recalls Yanan Sun: 'Neil asked me if I wanted 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. '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 the following morning the Registrar rang them to apologise and asked if there was anything she could do, they asked if they could still marry. Yanan Sun says: 'The Registrar said we could go in later that day. By then guests had gone back to work so we just wore our casual clothes, exchanged a few vows and signed our names on the documents. We were married but it was terrible - it was not the magical day I'd always dreamt it would be.'

The McElwees tried to put the incident behind them. In November their daughter Isabel was born. And they have since had second baby, Sybil in February last year.

However Yanan Sun could not get over what had happened. '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.'

Worse she began to panic whenever someone came to the door. 'I knew it was ridiculous but I kept thinking I was going to be arrested. I felt I couldn't trust anyone. In the end I needed counselling.'

Neil was so angry he made a complaint to the Police. He says: 'I couldn't understand why when the Police knew they'd made an error after just 40 minutes, they didn't immediately release us. Had they done so, we might still have been able to go ahead with our wedding as arranged.'

In June 2012 the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland upheld the McElwees' complaint.

A police officer later claimed he had carried out the arrest after receiving a letter from the UK Border agency that morning. But he had failed to check the McElwee's documents before making unlawful arrests and detaining them unlawfully.

Three Police officers were disciplined over the arrests and the pair went on to take civil action against the Chief Constable of the PSNI for their unlawful arrest.

This week Derry magistrates court ordered that Yanan Sun should be awarded £12,500 and Neil should get £9,000.

But while the couple say they are 'satisfied justice has been done,' they have struggled to move on. Neil admits: 'Most couples will reminisce about their wedding day but we never talk about it.'

And Yanan Sun says: 'No amount of money will truly compensate for my ruined big day. Sadly, we can never turn the clock back and undo those memories.'

Original report here

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