Two Customs officers have been jailed for helping to smuggle millions of pounds of cigarettes and alcohol into Britain.

Kent Customs officers Paul Weaver (35) and Steven Phillips (34) were pivotal to the international smuggling ring which cheated customs of more than £2 million in duty, London's Southwark Crown Court was told.

Weaver of Cheriton, and Phillips of Ramsgate, were given a string of back-handers for clearing at least five illicit shipments.

Judge Christopher Hardy said they had "acted in the grossest possible breach of trust" as he jailed Weaver for four years and Phillips for four years, six months.

Both admitted conspiring to evade duties between January 1 and December 10, 2003. Other members of the gang were jailed for a total of 16 years and six months.

The sophisticated cross-Channel operation saw containers packed with contraband shipped from Belgium, waved through dockside controls by the customs men and then driven to various safe warehouses by others.

From there the lucrative loads were sent to outlets across the country.

By avoiding excise payments and VAT the bootleggers were able to sell the goods at huge discounts and still pocket a fortune.

Luke Whitworth (32) who provided the "essential link between the customs officers and the conspirators" was jailed for three-and-a-half years for duty evasion conspiracy.

Whitworth, of Broadstairs, Kent, provided the corrupt customs men with details of vehicles and drivers involved in the importations through Ramsgate docks and then slipped them backhanders for their trouble.

Warehouse company director Brian Murray (41) was jailed for five years and six months, escaping a six-year sentence only because he had previously been involved in charity work and was of good character. Murray of Margate, was convicted of duty evasion conspiracy.

Transport manager David Elvy (49) of Sandwich, Kent, was jailed for four years for providing invaluable transport contacts for the scam.

Paul Farmer (36) of They-don Bois, Essex, was jailed for three years and six months for taking part in the duty evasion plot.