Wigan man remarried before divorcing his estranged wife, court told
Up to 80 guests attended a wedding for a man who was still married to his estranged wife, a court heard.
Divorce proceedings were under way for Stephen Ainscough and his wife Sandra - but they had not been completed when he tied the knot to Angela Atkinson.
The 54-year-old, of The Green, Pemberton, had earlier denied bigamy, but pleaded guilty when he appeared at Wigan and Leigh Magistrates’ Court yesterday.
The hearing came just a day after the divorce was concluded in the same court building.
Magistrates heard Ainscough and Ms Atkinson had their wedding at St John’s Church in Pemberton on October 14, 2017.
Tess Kenyon, prosecuting, said he was married to Ms Ainscough in 1994 and the couple separated in 2010, but remained in contact as they have a daughter and he provided financial support.
Ms Ainscough said there were no discussions about divorcing, until she received a divorce petition in 2017.
She also heard from a family member that wedding invitations had been sent out, Ms Kenyon said.
Mrs Ainscough went to see a solicitor and agreed to the divorce.
Ms Kenyon said: “She received confirmation that the decree nisi had been issued on October 13, 2017 and she applied to the courts for the defendant to be prohibited from applying for the decree absolute so that a financial order could be made in respect of a settlement.”
Magistrates heard Ainscough said he wanted the decree absolute so he could move on with his life during a hearing at Wigan Family Court on December 15, 2017 - two months after the wedding.
As Ainscough and his estranged wife left the court building, she asked if he had got married as she had seen a video of him in a church, but he claimed it was just a ceremony and they were not married due to the delays with the divorce.
Ms Kenyon said: “She accepted this account because he was clearly still married to her at that point.”
They returned to the family court a month later and Ainscough said he wanted to marry in 12 months so his father, who was in poor health, could attend.
The hearing was adjourned and Mrs Ainscough became suspicious, so she contacted the vicar of St John’s Church and was told a wedding had been conducted.
In a statement, she said she was “absolutely shocked and quite upset”.
Ms Kenyon said that during an interview, Ainscough claimed he had phoned the family court in Liverpool and was told the decree nisi and decree absolute could be issued on the same day. He said he was told he would be contacted if there were any problems.
The wedding went ahead and he later received the decree nisi in the post.
Ms Kenyon said: “He says it was when he received information from Sandra’s solicitor about a financial settlement that he realised there was a problem with the divorce and he shouldn’t have gone ahead with the marriage.”
Nick Lloyd, defending, said divorce proceedings started before any plans were made for the wedding, with Ainscough using an online company.
His client did not know there had been a delay, he said, and he maintained he was told the decree nisi and decree absolute could be issued on the same day.
Mr Lloyd said a mistake was made at the church, where two lay members involved in organising the wedding each assumed the other had asked to see the decree absolute.
The court was told there were no sentencing guidelines for bigamy, with options ranging from a fine to seven years in prison, depending on the circumstances.
Mr Lloyd said it was an “extremely unusual offence to come before the courts” and the number of cases nationally each year was “in single figures”.
He said there was no deception, Ainscough was not leading “a double life” and there was no emotional upset for those involved.
Ms Atkinson, who attended court with Ainscough, continues to stand by him and they hope to have a smaller wedding later in the year.
Mr Lloyd asked magistrates to consider imposing a financial penalty, as his client works shifts as a bus driver at Manchester Airport so would not be suitable to carry out unpaid work or have a curfew. Ainscough had no previous convictions.
Magistrates asked for a report from the probation service before sentencing.
Ainscough was sentenced to a 12-month community order and ordered to complete 100 hours of unpaid work.
He will also have to pay £170 in costs.
Magistrates took into account his guilty plea.