The Eastbourne Herald has uncovered documents showing Reg Jenkins, who is standing for the Conservatives in Devonshire, married his current wife, Huang Qi, in Shanghai, China, in February 1992 while he was still married to his first wife, Eleanor.
Although Reg and Eleanor, who were married in May 1966, started divorce proceedings in October 1991, their divorce was not made absolute until September 2000.
Under law, Mr Jenkins committed bigamy when he married Huang Qi and until the decree absolute he was married to two women, which is an offence under Section 57 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and carries a maximum prison sentence on conviction of seven years.
Mr Jenkins, 66, who runs a guest house in Cambridge Road, said yesterday he did not think he had done anything wrong. His 47-year-old wife is reportedly on holiday in China.
In a statement issued through the Eastbourne Conservative Association, Mr Jenkins admitted he may have made an 'error of judgement'.
The Eastbourne Herald has seen a copy of Reg and Eleanor's decree nisi, which was granted on October 31, 1991 after Eleanor filed for divorce on the grounds of her husband's adultery with an unknown person.
The document makes it clear it is not the final divorce decree and warns that an application for a decree absolute must be made to the court. On February 21, 1992 in Shanghai a marriage certificate was issued to Mr Jenkins, a British national, and Huang Qi, a Chinese national.
Mr Jenkins said in the statement,
"On October 31, 1991 a decree nisi was granted at Eastbourne County Court between myself and my first wife which stated that our marriage be dissolved 'unless sufficient cause be shown to the court within six weeks from the making thereof why the said decree should not be made absolute'.
"Such cause did not materialise – nor did I expect it to materialise. My first wife was not going to do anything to prevent the divorce as she had brought the claim. I was living in China and had no reason to fight the divorce.
"As a result, six weeks plus one day after October 31, 1999, my understanding was that the decree absolute was deemed to have been issued.
"I had never been divorced before or since. I am not a lawyer. I assumed – and that may have been an error of judgement – that once the six weeks had elapsed the divorce was final.
"This belief was later supported by my experience at the British embassy in Shanghai. The embassy recognised my divorce as being final and absolute, as well as recognising my subsequent marriage to my second wife.
"This recognition was illustrated by their issuing a visa granting my second wife 'indefinite leave to remain in the UK' as a result of our marriage.
"It would be incredible for a British embassy to recognise a second marriage and grant that type of visa while I was still married to my first wife.
"As far as I am concerned, at no time was I married to more than one person. I married my second wife after divorcing my first wife. This fact was recognised by the British Embassy in Shanghai. The technicality, the rubberstamping of the decree absolute which took place on September 7 2000, was a much belated technical recognition of my divorce of 1991 which preceded my marriage to my second wife in 1992 by over two months."
As the Eastbourne Herald went to press on Thursday morning a solicitor representing Mr Jenkins said he would be going to court in an attempt obtain an injunction banning the paper from publishing this story.
Asked if the Eastbourne Conservative Association was still supporting Mr Jenkins, who is hoping to win a Conservative seat on East Sussex County Council in next Thursday's elections, a spokeswoman said it was.
"He is a fantastic candidate and is working hard and supporting the residents in the ward where he lives."