IT WAS a scene that shames a civilised 21stcentury society. The filthy, over-crowded living conditions could have been in a hovel in a deprived Third World country.

But this is an end-of-terrace house in a quiet Liverpool suburb.

A raid by police, the Immigration Service and environ-mental health officers yesterday exposed a squalid safe house being lived in by as many as 40 people.

Eight Chinese men and one woman were arrested during the operation at 74 Stuart Road, Walton, on suspicion of immigration offences including illegal entry into the UK and having false documents.

The raid came on the day a law to end exploitation of thousands of workers in the UK by illegal gangmasters came into force.

And, in a separate development, a father and son from Irby, Wirral, were charged in connection with the More-cambe Bay cockling tragedy, which claimed the lives of 21 Chinese cockle pickers who are believed to have lived in Liverpool.

David Anthony Eden, 61, of Thingwall Road, and his son, David Anthony Eden, 33, of Woodchurch Road, were each charged with conspiracy to commit facilitation, that is with assisting an immigrant.

A team of six Merseyside police officers, four immigration officers, two Home Office interpreters and two Liverpool council environmental health officers stormed the three-storey house on Stuart Road at 1pm.

Nearly three hours after officers entered the building, two Chinese men wearing flip-flops were led out in handcuffs and into a waiting police van.

Half an hour later, six more men and one woman were also taken away to a police station in Liverpool.

At the time of the raid 31 men and one woman were inside the property. It is believed up to another eight may have been staying over-night but left the house before the raid.

Officers discovered cockle nets, waders and rakes left in large piles on the landings and in the hallways of the seven-bedroom house.

The Daily Post later toured the red-brick home and found it to be a filthy hovel with only one toilet, one stained bath and a small kitchen.

Throughout the dank house was the musty smell of human odour. The second floor corridor and rooms near the only toilet reeked of urine.

There was not a single bed in the property - only a handful of mattresses. The major-ity of the workers slept on roll-mats with sleeping bags and blankets.

Every available bit of floor-space in the upper two floors was being used as sleeping space - each roll-mat had a bundle of clothes nearby and a couple of pairs of shoes.

Only a few of the naked light bulbs worked. Blankets were hung against the windows to avoid prying eyes.

In one of the rooms on the second floor, a group of seven young men huddled under quilts and sleeping bags sideby-side.

Their rakes for cockle picking had been left stacked up in a corner along with a collection of green Wellington boots.

Downstairs in the lounge, a table was being used to prepare the workers' food.

A large serving bowl full of rice was perched on top of rice sacks opposite a crate of cauliflowers and a raw chicken.

A spokesman for Liverpool City Council said the remaining immigrants were last night allowed to stay at the property.

He added: "We made forced entry under environmental health legislation. The house is not going to be boarded up at the moment. Our inquiries are still continuing."

A spokeswoman for the Immigration Service said: "There have been nine arrests today on various immigration charges. This includes illegal entry into the country and having false records. They were all Chinese. They will be questioned at a local police station."

The building is owned by an Irish property investor and managed on his behalf by Liverpool man Terry Duvall.

Neighbours reported seeing three minibuses which parked outside the house and took the Chinese immigrants away each morning at around 8am. They would then return in the evening and late at night.

Safe house landlord: I was gullible

TERRY Duvall, who owns and rented out 74 Stuart Road, said he had no idea that the property was being used as a safe house for Chinese workers.

Mr Duvall, 58, from Anfield, added that he was approached in May by a Chinese chef who said he needed a house for his family of seven to live in.

As far as he knew, Mr Duvall said, they took occupancy of the £600-per month home in Walton on May 27. However, he added, on July 1, Liverpool City Council wrote to him warning him that too many people were living at the address.

Last night Mr Duvall told the Daily Post that he now feels conned. He said he saw the man on three occasions, adding that he now feels that he has been "gullible".

Mr Duvall said: "He told me he had an extensive family and I was never really suspicious.

"He looked at the property and then said he wanted to look with his family.

"He came back a third time and haggled over the rent. "I thought everything was fine but then I got a letter from the council saying that they thought that upwards of 30 people were living there.

"There is no way of safeguarding against this kind of thing. I am the gullible one."

New laws to protect workers

A LAW to end exploitation of thousands of workers in the UK by illegal gangmasters gained Royal Assent yesterday.

The Gangmasters Licensing Act will clamp down on poverty wages and rip-off accommodation charges for up to 60,000 workers.

A private member's bill by Jim Sheridan MP moved up the political agenda after 21 Chinese cockle pickers, all thought to be from Liverpool, drowned in Morecambe Bay in February.

The act covers agricultural and horticultural work, shellfish gathering and processing and packaging connected with those industries.

A new regulatory body will ensure full health and safety and minimum wage legislation is observed.

Enforcement officers will have the power to arrest gangmasters working without licences, who will then be liable for up to 12 months' imprisonment.

Mr Sheridan said: "I am delighted that this legislation has been successful.

"It shows that government, MPs, trade unions and reputable agricultural employers are not willing to tolerate the misery caused by those who happily flout the law in pursuit of profits.

"I look forward to the Gangmasters Licensing Agency opening its doors in 2005 and getting down to the business of supporting legitimate operators and driving the criminals out of our agricultural and fishing industries."

Tony Woodley, Transport and General Workers Union general secretary, added: "The days of illegal gangmasters who profit from the misery of thousands of workers, defraud the state and drive good businesses to the wall are numbered."