Marks and Spencer has admitted negligently exposing former worker Janice Allen, 53 to asbestos during her employment at two of their stores.

Mrs Allen who was a supervisor in the men’s and women’s clothes sections of M&S from 1978-87, first at its main Oxford Street store in London and then in Uxbridge, has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a lethal form of lung cancer caused by inhaling asbestos fibres. There is no cure, and she has been given months to live. M&S has agreed in the high court to pay significant damages after judgment in her favour in May. M&S admitted breaching its legal duty of care.

In the summer of 2012, 25 years after leaving Marks and Spencer, Mrs Allen felt agonising pain near her ribs, and in April 2013 she was diagnosed with mesothelioma.

The case was aided by evidence from William Wallace, a Health and Safety Officer who had informed the HSE of the criminally unsafe work with asbestos at Marks and Spencer’s Reading branch, as a result of which the company was fined £1 million. Mr Wallace also worked at the Marble Arch store in 1998, and acted as a witness in Mrs Allen’s legal claim.

He told the High Court: ‘There were minefields – asbestos minefields, for want of a better expression. You could not have guaranteed the safety of anybody – the workers, the staff, the customers. You could not have given a 100 per cent guarantee that those people were safe’.

A Marks and Spencer spokesman claimed the company could not comment on individual cases, but extended ‘deepest sympathies’ to Mrs Allen. She also insisted that its stores are no longer dangerous.

In a statement the company said: “We are confident that we now have the most rigorous policy we can have in place and that M&S stores are safe for our employees and our customers.”