Widow of smart motorway crash victim urges South Yorkshire Police to seek Highways England prosecution

The widow of a man killed in a collision on the M1 smart motorway near Sheffield is calling on South Yorkshire Police to take action against Highways England.

By Claire Lewis
Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 2:35 pm

The force is being urged to seek a corporate manslaughter prosecution, with widow Claire Mercer claiming smart motorways are dangerous and should never have been given the go-ahead.

She is campaigning for action following the death of her husband Jason Mercer, aged 44, from Rotherham, who was killed when he stopped on the M1 near Sheffield to exchange details with another motorist after a minor collision on a stretch of road without a hard shoulder.

Lorry driver Prezemyslaw Szuba was jailed for 10 months for causing death by careless driving after crashing into Mr Mercer and 22-year-old Alexandru Murgeanu, from Mansfield, but Mr Mercer’s wife said the wrong person was prosecuted.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Claire Mercer marked her late husband’s birthday by arranging a giant mobile screen to be outside South Yorkshire Police’s headquarters calling on the force to prosecute Highways England over smart motorways. Picture: Chris Etchells

Last month, Sheffield coroner David Urpeth ruled that the lack of a hard shoulder ‘contributed’ to the deaths of the two men.

On what would have been Mr Mercer’s birthday, his wife had today placed a giant digital billboard outside the South Yorkshire Police HQ in Sheffield calling for an investigation into the actions of Highways England.

Her lawyers have written to South Yorkshire Police Chief Constable, Stephen Watson, demanding an investigation.

Her solicitor, Neil Hudgell, said: “Our client feels strongly that there is a case to answer for the offence of corporate manslaughter.

Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, died in a collision on the M1 smart motorway near Sheffield

“The fact is that Highways England has been aware of the obvious risk of removing hard shoulders on motorways yet has continued to expand the network.

“It has been demonstrated by statistics that the risks presented by stationary vehicles have increased by the use of smart motorways.

“All of these facts ought to have been known before the death of Jason.”

Mrs Mercer said: “I feel as though my calls for an investigation into the actions of Highways England and a corporate manslaughter prosecution were dismissed by South Yorkshire Police until the coroner in the inquest into Jason’s death ruled that the lack of a hard shoulder contributed to it.

“I feel that SYP do not have a leg to stand on now and have to investigate this and seek prosecution.

“The force investigated my husband’s death, which would not have happened if there had been a hard shoulder. They prosecuted Prezemyslaw Szuba but he did not remove the hard shoulder.

“He was not the one who did not close the road quickly enough when the crash occurred.

“It is Highways England who should be facing prosecution.”

South Yorkshire Police said: “A Senior Investigating Officer has been assigned to this matter, and will be overseeing the review of all the materials obtained. At this time, we have not yet received the evidence from Mr Mercer and Mr Murgeanu’s inquest.

“This activity will allow SYP to ascertain whether a crime has been committed, with a view to the possible commencement of criminal proceedings.

“SYP remains in close consultation with the Health and Safety Executive and the Crown Prosecution Service.”

Highways England said: “Safety is Highways England's number one priority and we always work to make the strategic road network safer. It would be inappropriate for us to provide comment on the activity of South Yorkshire Police.”