Widow continues fight for justice over husband’s smart motorway death

Claire Mercer

A smart motorway campaigner whose husband died in a crash on the M1 has said she is determined to challenge a decision that National Highways will not face charges over his death.

Claire Mercer was campaigning outside South Yorkshire Police headquarters in Sheffield on Wednesday to mark what would have been her husband Jason Mercer's 47th birthday.

Mr Mercer and another man, Alexandru Murgeanu, died in June 2019 when they were hit by a lorry on the M1 near Sheffield after they stopped on the inside lane of the smart motorway section after a minor collision.

Widow continues fight for justice over husband’s smart motorway deathMrs Mercer's husband Jason was killed along with Alexandru Murgeanu in June 2019 (Danny Lawson/PA)

Last month, South Yorkshire Police announced that National Highways will not face corporate manslaughter charges over the crash after a "scoping exercise" sparked by another crash on a smart section of the M1 which led to the death of 62-year-old grandmother Nargis Begum.

Speaking to the PA news agency, Mrs Mercer said: "I did this for his 46th birthday and, a year later, we're no further on.

"South Yorkshire Police spent about 10 months looking into corporate manslaughter charges but, for very unsatisfactory reasons, decided to end their investigation.

"Me and a lot of other people don't agree that that was right."

Mrs Mercer said she found it difficult to accept that Highways England, whose responsibilities have now been taken over by National Highways, do not have a duty of care to motorway users.

"They are in charge of the roads," she said.

Widow continues fight for justice over husband’s smart motorway deathMrs Mercer took her campaign to a police headquarters (Danny Lawson/PA)

"They sign massive contracts with private companies on the back of these roads.

"And yet they don't owe us a duty of care.

It just seems absolute madness.

"We want that decision analysed."

Sheffield coroner David Urpeth decided that Mr Mercer and Mr Murgeanu, 22, were unlawfully killed, and said: "I find, as a finding of fact, it is clear a lack of hard shoulder contributed to this tragedy."

And Rotherham coroner Nicola Mundy referred Highways England to the Crown Prosecution Service to consider if corporate manslaughter charges were appropriate in relation to the death of grandmother Ms Begum, near Woodall Services, in September 2018, prompting the police scoping exercise in both crashes.

Mrs Mercer said: "If it had been in a factory or some other environment there would be no question.

Widow continues fight for justice over husband’s smart motorway deathMr Mercer was killed after stopping after a minor collision on the M1 (Danny Lawson/PA)

"I'm not giving up until we get the hard shoulder back, and we really are getting more people behind us when they learn more and more about exactly what these roads are and how we've had the wool pulled over our eyes.

"We were led to believe right from the start, 10 years ago, that there was all sorts of technology built into them and there isn't even technology built into them now.

"People are starting to realise the shortfalls and how much danger they've been put in."

In January, the Government announced that the rollout of smart motorways was being paused amid safety concerns until five years' worth of data has been collected to assess whether or not they are safe for drivers.

Mrs Mercer said on Wednesday that this move "wasn't worth the paper it was written on".

She added: "It was insulting when I heard about it, and it's insulting now."

Mrs Mercer was joined by friends outside the police HQ and a large digital messaging truck highlighting her campaign.