A police community support officer has died after being exposed to asbestos as a child.

Cheryl Marsh passed away in the early hours of Thursday morning following a long battle with the fatal lung disease mesothelioma.

The 50-year-old from Brighton had worked for Sussex Police in Brighton since March 2003 and had previously worked for the Brighton Womens Refuge Project.

Earlier this year Ms Marsh, who was diagnosed in 2004, was awarded £100,000 compensation from a London borough council because she developed the disease from asbestos in the council block where she grew up.

She used to play in the boiler rooms in the basement of her family's council flat in Islington when she was 13 years old and was among a group of 20 children who gathered there in the winter evenings.

The area had been covered in asbestos dust but nobody at the time knew it was dangerous.

Ms Marsh was also exposed to asbestos when later employed by Islington Borough Council's social services department, where she worked on a motorcycle scheme.

She came into contact with the dust when stripping down and sanding asbestos brake pads but was never told it could harm her health.

Islington Borough Council admitted liability and agreed to pay Ms Marsh compensation.

Ms Marsh became one of the first community support officers recruited by Sussex Police when she was taken on in 2002.

In 2006 she won a Sussex Police Award for her dedication and professionalism and continued to work over the last year despite her illness.

Superintendent Graham Bartlett said: "Cheryl was an extremely popular and effective PCSO.

"She was one of the first to be appointed in what was a very new role and helped to develop the concept of neighbourhood policing in Brighton and Hove.

"She previously worked with the police providing support to victims of domestic violence and through that improved the lives of many, many people.

"Cheryl was one of the most committed and resilient people I've had the pleasure to meet. Even when she was diagnosed and became very seriously ill, she still insisted on coming into work to provide the excellent service to the community, which was her passion.

"Our thoughts are with her partner, family and friends at this very sad time."

In an interview with The Argus earlier this year, Ms Marsh said: "When I found out I had mesothelioma I thought, why me?' "I didn't know anything about the disease but when I researched it I discovered it mainly affected men in their 70s who had worked in heavy industries.

"I can't do the things I used to, like a full shift on the beat but work is the one thing that keeps me going.

"I don't know how much longer I have. I live each day as it comes. I try to be positive and I hope one day they will come up with a miracle cure."

There is no cure for mesothelioma, which is often associated with former shipyard and factory workers and can take up to 40 years to develop.

Sufferers often have to give up work shortly after diagnosis due to the severity of the disease but Ms Marsh managed to stay in her job for more than three years after her diagnosis.

Ms Marsh's partner of two years, Ann Dale, 50, said she had known Cheryl since they were teenagers.

She said: "We held an early 50th birthday party for her and so many people came to it. It gave her a chance to see how much she was loved and cared for.

"She had friends all over the place in Brighton and London and her love of life was unvelievable. She used to say that life was a journey and you had to travel it well.

"I used to tell her she had definitely travelled it well. At the end she needed oxygen and a wheelchair but she didn't care and would still just go for it.

"She was an incredible woman."

Ms Dale is planning to hold a celebration of Ms Marsh's life at a future date.