Workers who have been in the country illegally for up to 15 years were living in "slavery".

On December 6 immigration enforcement officers from the Home Office raided Wo Fat in the High Road, Loughton.

Despite staff members' attempts to remove their aprons and deny that they worked there, five Chinese men, a Chinese woman and a Malaysian man were found to be employed without the right legal paperwork.

With Wo Fat's owners facing a fine of up to £140,000, on March 18 Epping Forest District Council will decide whether the restaurant will be stripped of its license.

A comprehensive report compiled by Essex Police and immigration forces condemned the cramped living conditions, lack of legal recourse available to the workers and wages as low as £3 an hour.

Epping Forest Guardian:

The police report reads: "In short, this is an example of modern day slavery.

"His (the owner's) flagrant disregard of employment and revenue legislation has allowed this employer to absolve himself of liability for employer pension and national insurance contribution."

When immigration officials apprehended the workers in December they were candid about their work situations.

One Chinese man said he had been working there for two months and earned £220 a week.

A background check found he had been arrested at a Chinese restaurant in 2009 only to flee upon his temporary release.

Another man claimed to be a British national but was in fact Malaysian, having come to the country as a short term visitor in 2003 and stayed ever since.

One Chinese man was smuggled into the country by boat in 2009, was immediately arrested and then fled as police investigated his case.

Epping Forest Guardian:

While most of the workers claimed to be earning between £200 and £400 a week in cash, one said he was paid £3 an hour to wash pots for 10 hours a day, six days a week.

When The Guardian spoke to owner Chi Wu in February he claimed he was not aware the employees were there illegally when he took over in August.

"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."

Mr Wu, who presented the raiding authorities with irrelevant payroll information when they demanding to see the employees' paper work, said he was in a financially precarious position.

He continued: "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."

Epping Forest Guardian:

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, something his employees refuted.

Following the raid seven people have written to the council showing their support for Wo Fat and urging the authorities not to shut it down.

One person wrote: "This restaurant has been trading in Loughton for over 40 years, and it would be sad to see this restaurant close its doors.

"I myself, my family and friends plus business associates have been going to this restaurant for many years, and have never experienced any problems.

"Their food is my favourite. I would personally appreciate if you would give them a second chance, for the local people to carry on enjoying Wo Fat."

Another praised the "excellent service by courteous, well trained staff."

They added: "The food is cooked well and the premises are clean.

"I spoke to the manager and he assured me that there is no illegal immigrant working there."