Two London men were jailed yesterday for a total of five years for value-added tax fraud while operating what Customs and Excise officers believe was Britain's biggest 'squat shop network.

Brian McCaffrey and Colin Miller defrauded Customs and Excise of pounds 415,000 over three years by failing to pay back VAT on goods sold from empty shops that they broke into and occupied.

The pair operated at least 70 such shops - a third in London including on Oxford Street - selling household goods and cheap imported clothing. They employed foreign workers who slept in the buildings, delaying eviction procedures, and had a turnover of pounds 5 million in three years.

After leaseholders secured eviction orders - which took at least six weeks - McCaffrey and Miller would move to another vacant site. They paid no rent, rates, bills or other taxes.

Knightsbridge Crown Court heard that McCaffrey, director, and Miller, company secretary of Prizebuys Limited, kept VAT charged to customers instead of repaying it to Customs. Both denied evading pounds 415,000 in VAT but were found guilty after a 10-week trial.

McCaffrey, 44, of Brechin Place, South Kensington was jailed by Judge Anura Cooray for three years and disqualified from being a director of a company for seven years.

Miller, 31, of St George's Square, Pimlico, was jailed for two years and banned from being a director for five years.

Tony Webb, Customs and Excise investigator, said the business started in 1989 from a base in Garratt Lane, Tooting.

'I don't know anyone else who has ever done this on such a large scale before, he said. The pair were caught after nine months' surveillance.