The owner of a Chinese takeaway caught employing and housing seven illegal workers would rather go to jail than pay the £140,000 fine.

Working on a tip-off immigration enforcement officers from the Home Office raided Wo Fat in the High Road, Loughton on December 6.

Immigration checks found that five Chinese men, a Chinese woman and a Malaysian man had no permission to work.

The restaurant was served with a civil penalty referral notice warning that up to £20,000 per worker would have to be paid if their employers cannot provide right-to-work documents.

Chi Wu, Wo Fat's owner since last August, claimed he was not aware the employees were there illegally when he took over.

"It is a sad story," he said.

"When I took over these guys were working part-time. They had no where to go.

"When I found out I had a word with them. I said 'you must go' but they told me they had no where to go.

"We agreed they had to go after Chinese new year."

Before Mr Wu could convince the Chinese and Malaysian workers to move on however, the Home Office officials arrived.

The 58 year-old, who lives in Loughton, said he is unable to pay the fine.

"It is impossible," he added.

"When I took over the World Cup was on but the takings were so low.

"We weren't making money at all. I would rather go to jail. It is big money."

Mr Wu said since the raid he has only employed workers with permits.

One of the suspected illegal workers is still living on the premises in one of the two person rooms above the restaurant where all seven employees were housed.

Mr Wu claimed he paid his employees £8.20 an hour.