M&S To Be Sentenced In Asbestos Case

Marks & Spencer face a heavy fine for failing to protect customers, staff and workers from potential exposure to asbestos during refurbishment of two stores, including one in Bournemouth.

The chain is beaing sentenced along with three contractors at a two day hearing starting Monday 26th September.

The management at the retail giant was said to have been more concerned about the works being "unsightly" and "interfering with the shopping experience" of customers than the cancer-causing material.

Construction workers removed asbestos in ceiling tiles and elsewhere during the work at stores in Bournemouth and Reading between 2006 and 2007.

The three-month trial at Winchester Crown Court was told that M&S did not allocate sufficient time and space for the removal of the material in Reading and contractors had to work overnight before the shop opened to the public each day.

M&S guidance on asbestos removal was not fully followed by the contractors during the major refurbishments but M&S had a "duty of care" to ensure the work was carried out safely.

The store was found guilty in July of two charges under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 of failing to ensure the health and safety of its staff and others at the Reading store.

Willmott Dixon Construction, of Hertfordshire, was found guilty of contravening the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 at the Bournemouth store.

Manchester-based PA Realisations (formerly Pectel) was found guilty of contravening Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 at the Reading store.

At an earlier hearing, Styles & Wood, of Manchester Road, Altrincham, Cheshire, pleaded guilty to contravening the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 relating to the Reading store.

The companies will be sentenced at Bournemouth Crown Court.

Richard Matthews, prosecuting, told the trial that M&S failed to carry out sufficient surveys to identify the location of asbestos in the stores.

He explained that M&S as a company was experienced in handling asbestos with 70% of its stores containing the hazardous building material and the firm even had its own code of practice for dealing with it.

He said: "Marks & Spencer had a duty to make sure asbestos did not take those working in the store by surprise.

"If that meant making the store unsightly to customers or interfere with their shopping experience then so be it - better an unattractive store in the short-term than the risk of anything else in the long term.''