National Highways will not face manslaughter charges over smart motorway deaths

It follows two fatal incidents on the M1, killing Naris Begum, 62, Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22

Emily Atkinson
Tuesday 01 February 2022 23:37 GMT

The government’s highway agency will not face corporate manslaughter charges over two fatal crashes on a smart motorway, police say.

Charges were considered by South Yorkshire Police when concerns were raised by a coroner after a 62-year-old woman died on a section of the M1 without a hard shoulder in South Yorkshire.

A month before the pre-inquest review into grandmother Naris Begum’s death, a separate coroner concluded that smart motorways “present an ongoing risk of future deaths”.

In relation to Ms Begum’s case, Doncaster coroner Nicola Mundy referred National Highways, previously Highways England, to the CPS to consider if corporate manslaughter charges were appropriate.

South Yorkshire Police have since confirmed the investigation has now ended.

Temporary assistant chief constable, Sarah Poolman, said: “Following concerns expressed by senior coroner Nicola Mundy at the pre-inquest review into the death of Mrs Nargis Begum, the force launched a ‘scoping exercise’ to ascertain whether there is a reasonable suspicion that Highways England may have committed the criminal offence of corporate manslaughter.

“Within our terms of reference, we also included the incident which led to the deaths of Mr Jason Mercer and Mr Alexandru Murgeanu.

Coroner David Urpeth deduced that the primary cause of death of Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22 - in a separate incident on the M1 in 2019 - was the careless driving of lorry driver Prezemyslaw Szuba, who collided with their vehicles as they stood stationary.

“I find, as a finding of fact, it is clear a lack of hard shoulder contributed to this tragedy,” Mr Urpeth, of Sheffield, said following his conclusion of of unlawful killing.

Ms Poolman continued: “As part of our work, we sought specialist advice from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

“Having considered the CPS advice, we have concluded that in the circumstances, Highways England cannot be held liable for the offence of corporate manslaughter.

“This is because, in legal terms, the organisation did not owe road users a ‘relevant duty of care’ under the terms set out in the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. For this reason, I have brought the police investigation into this offence to an end.”

She added: “I regret that South Yorkshire Police is unable to provide all the answers that families and campaigners are looking for. However, I can assure them that a thorough and comprehensive report comprising our findings and all of the materials we have gathered during our scoping exercise is now being completed.

“This report will be provided to Ms Mundy before Mrs Begum’s inquest is resumed. It can also be made available to the Government and Highways England, with a view that its contents may help inform further inquiries into smart motorways via other avenues in the future.”

Jason Mercer’s wife, Claire Mercer, who has campaigned for National Highways to be investigated over the crash, described the news as “very upsetting”.

“I don’t understand how they can say Highways England don’t have a duty of care to motorists. How do you justify that?” she told the PA news agency.

“They build the roads, they supply the roads.”

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