Former Gurkha soldiers were exposed to potentially lethal asbestos dust while working on a multi-million pound building site.

They had been recruited to do security at Charter House in Park Street in Ashford in 2013, but were then employed as construction workers.

Canterbury Crown Court heard that there was so much asbestos-strewn rubble in the old building during the conversion that the site resembled a “war zone”. Up to 200 workers, including Gurkhas were exposed to asbestos from February to April 2013 and again – despite warnings from the Health and Safety Executive – between February and June in 2014.

Work at the site stopped in 2014 after asbestos was found behind a wall, and the HSE closed down the building site for a month while an investigation was carried out. The HSE then issued four notices to Barroerock in December 2014.

Barroerock Construction admitted two health and safety breaches.

The judge heard how the company gave instructions to the workers but “did not ask whether they had had asbestos training and the company did not provide any awareness training”.

Protective clothing was not provided to all of the workers.

Those exposed to the carcinogenic fibres will not know the consequences for many years, as asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma take decades for doctors to diagnose.

Edmund Young, a specialist asbestos lawyer, said: “This is an indictment of the travesty of employers placing workers’ lives at risk with a blatant disregard for their health and safety. Those affected by the company’s negligent exposure to asbestos will now be under a life time sentence as to whether they will contract an incurable disease, whilst the company gets away without having to pay a penny for their gross negligence.”

Barroerock Construction won the contract to turn the former office block known as Charter House into 234 apartments and now called the Panorama as part of a £14m project.

HM inspectors made a routine visit to the site in 2013 and as a result specialist contractors were brought in to tackle the asbestos.

Barroerock Construction has since gone into liquidation. The company, which had pleaded guilty last year to two health and safety breaches, did not show up for the hearing and its lawyers told the court by letter it wouldn’t represent Barroerock as it was also owed money.