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Workers exposed to asbestos at Panorama development in Ashford feel betrayed

By Aidan Barlow

A group of construction workers who were left exposed to asbestos say they feel lied to and betrayed.

Hundreds of workers, most of them former Gurkha soldiers, were employed as labourers on the conversion of Charter House into 234 flats for the Panorama development in 2013.

But Barroerock Construction Ltd, which oversaw the stripping out of the building, were found to have had a “blatant disregard” for the risks to the workmen, at a site which was labelled in court as an asbestos “warzone”.

Former Gurkha soldiers were exposed to asbestos at the Panorama construction site in Ashford

Former Gurkha soldiers were exposed to asbestos at the Panorama construction site in Ashford

Director Sean O’Connor put the company into liquidation in February, despite its annual turnover of £10 million. He has since set up Oakleigh Build Ltd.

It means that the £750,000 fine imposed following a prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) earlier this month will be added to the list of creditors.

Now Ashford Sagarmatha Gurkha and Nepalese Community chairman Bhaskar Titung says more than 20 men have confirmed they were working on the site between January 2013 and June 2014, when the HSE stepped in to shut the site down.

The asbestos war zone which greeted HSE inspectors at the Panorama building in Ashford

The asbestos "war zone" which greeted HSE inspectors at the Panorama building in Ashford

Mr Titung said: “This was a hazardous environment. Many of the men had just left the infantry and it was their first job on a construction site.

“They only knew basic health and safety training and had not been properly briefed, nor were they told the truth about the building.

“It makes me feel that they were betrayed, because the company didn’t provide proper equipment.”

The group described their experiences at the site, where their main tasks included stripping the building of everything inside, including carpets, pipes, ceiling tiles and walls.

Bhaskar Titung

Bhaskar Titung

For many it was their first civilian job outside of the British Army but they say that despite the “dusty” conditions, they were not offered protective overalls or training about the dangers of asbestos.

One worker said: “We’ve heard that symptoms take 15 to 20 years to show, so that’s very worrying.

“We don’t know the legislation, we don’t know what to expect, or what should have been done. We’re worried this could happen again in future to other workers.”

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