A Hampshire firm has been fined after workers and Royal Navy personnel were exposed to asbestos when pipes lined with the substance were left on a roadside.

A court heard how the pipes, lined with asbestos insulation, were removed from HMS Sultan naval training base in Gosport as part of work to replace a hot water system.

Magistrates heard that Hedge End-based VT Flagship Ltd was responsible for the works, which took place in September 2009.

The company then contracted Hertfordshire firm, PPSL District Energy Limited, to remove the pipes and associated materials.

Portsmouth Magistrates Court heard that the old pipes were stacked by the side of the road at the base, before being put in an open recycling skip and transferred to Demolition and Salvage Ltd, in Hilsea.

It wasn't until October 20, 2009, that the salvage firm raised the alarm with the Health and Safety Executive, after discovering their premises had become contaminated by asbestos.

An investigation by the HSE found that VT Flagship and PPSL had both failed to identify the presence of asbestos in the pipes.

The HSE said that employees from both companies, workers from the salvage yard, plus anyone in the vicinity of the contaminated pipes, including passing Navy personnel, were all “at risk” of asbestos exposure.

VT Flagship Ltd, of Grange Drive, Hedge End, was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £5,196 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006.

PPSL District Energy Limited was fined £18,000 and handed a bill £4,291 in costs after also pleading guilty.

After the hearing HSE Inspector Adam Wycherley said: “Before anyone undertakes any demolition or refurbishment works they must take appropriate steps to ensure they have reliable information regarding the materials they are dealing with, an essential requirement that is specifically in place to identify the presence of asbestos.

“VT Flagship and PPSL District Energy both failed in this regard. They wrongly assumed there was no asbestos without carrying out proper checks to back that up with hard evidence.

“As a result a number of workers for several different companies, as well as passing Navy personnel, were put at unnecessary risk.

“Thousands of people die every year as a result of asbestos-related disease, and duty holders cannot afford to take any chances or make assumptions.”