Barry Morris, the head of womenswear at Marks & Spencer and one of the group's most senior executives, has been ousted due to the group's continuing poor trading performance said a report in the Sunday Telegraph.

M&S will announce this week that Morris, 53, is taking early retirement. Insiders say he was seen visibly shaken and upset in the corridors of the group's Baker Street headquarters last week, after meetings with Vandevelde and Roger Holmes, head of UK retailing.

Morris is expected to walk away with a year's salary, equivalent to about £250,000.

A spokeswoman for M&S said: "Disappointing trading performance has been a factor in [Morris's] decision. He feels he has given it his best shot and he has been going through a difficult time." Mr Morris was not available for comment.

Morris, who has worked for M&S for 31 years, was a main board director until he stepped down last July as part of one of the group's many management shake-ups. Since then he has been running M&S's key womenswear division, responsible for annual sales of more than £2bn a year.

Under his command sales of womenswear have fallen alarmingly. In February and March, like-for-like sales in clothing, footwear and gifts fell 6.5 per cent in the UK, following earlier declines in 2000 and 1999. Womenswear sales are thought to have fallen even faster.

One M&S watcher observed: "Ladieswear was never going to progress under Morris. All he is interested in is price. His departure was well overdue."

The M&S spokeswoman added that Yasmin Yusuf, recently brought in to oversee men's, women's and children's clothing, will be concentrating her efforts on womenswear pending the appointment of a replacement for Morris.

"We have started a search (for a replacement)," spokeswoman Jane Lowe said. "We obviously have had a number of concerns about womenswear. There's been disappointing trading and declining sales. The main problem is the appeal of the clothing, the fact that the clothing isn't appealing enough to our customers," she said.

The group is due to report its annual results on May 22. In March it announced a radical restructuring in an effort to turn around its fortunes, which saw its shares fall to the just above 170 pence last October - about a quarter of their value three years earlier - mainly because of trouble in its sales of womenswear.