Highways agency will not face charges over fatal crashes on smart motorway

National Highways will not face corporate manslaughter charges over two fatal crashes on a smart motorway, a police force has said.

Feb 1, 2022
By Website Editor

South Yorkshire Police carried out a “scoping exercise” into potential charges after concerns raised in February last year by a coroner investigating the death of 62-year-old grandmother Nargis Begum.

Mrs Begum died on a stretch of the M1 without a hard shoulder in South Yorkshire, near Woodall Services, in September 2018.

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

Sheffield coroner David Urpeth said the primary cause of death of Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, on a different stretch of the M1 in June 2019, was the careless driving of lorry driver Prezemyslaw Szuba, who ploughed into their vehicles as they stood stationary in lane one following a minor shunt.

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

Doncaster coroner Nicola Mundy referred National Highways, then known as Highways England, to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to consider if corporate manslaughter charges are appropriate in relation to the death of grandmother Ms Begum.

South Yorkshire Police have said the investigation has now ended.

T/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. As part of our work, we sought specialist advice from the 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.”

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

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

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