Smart motorway death 'treated as PR exercise by transport minister'

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image captionClaire Mercer has campaigned against the use of smart motorways since her husband's death

A widow has accused the transport secretary of treating her husband's death on a smart motorway as a PR exercise.

A coroner criticised the roads after hearing Jason Mercer died in a crash on part of the M1 with no hard shoulder.

Mr Mercer's widow Claire said Grant Shapps had tried to "manage" her when they spoke.

A spokesman said Mr Shapps had called an urgent meeting with Highways England in light of the inquest's findings.

Mrs Mercer has been campaigning for smart motorways to be scrapped since the fatal crash on 7 June 2019.

Her 44-year-old husband and another driver, Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, were stopped on the M1 when a a lorry smashed into their vehicles.

She said her local MP Sarah Champion had been "very supportive", putting her in touch with various government departments and passing her phone number to Mr Shapps at his request.

'Grieving widow'

Mrs Mercer said Mr Shapps had called but she felt he was trying to "manage" her and "PR his way out of this."

Speaking to Nicky Campbell on BBC Radio 5Live, she said one phone call, before the government announced a review into smart motorways, "was definitely a PR exercise".

She believed Mr Shapps had "wanted me to basically agree everything and say that I was on board, and then they could parade me as the grieving widow that agreed with them".

"I very definitely didn't and I told him that," she said.

"The review was just a paperwork exercise and a PR exercise."

The DfT said Mr Shapps had "recognised the concerns around smart motorway safety" as soon as he took up office and had "commissioned an urgent stocktake of the evidence".

"As part of this, he spoke to several families of those who had died, as well as groups such as the AA and RAC, to ensure the work being done took account of their concerns," a spokesman said.

image copyrightOther
image captionAlexandru Murgeanu (l) and Jason Mercer were killed in the crash on the M1 in South Yorkshire

At an inquest on Monday, coroner David Urpeth found that Mr Mercer and Mr Murgeanu were unlawfully killed - a conclusion that surprised Mrs Mercer.

"When the coroner said... that the smart motorways contributed to the death, I cried, several of my family members gasped and I was crying and I got in a bit of a state," she said.

Mr Urpeth also warned there was "an ongoing risk of future deaths" from smart motorways without a hard shoulder.

He said he would write to Highways England and Mr Shapps to request a review of the roads.

Highways England said it was addressing many of the points raised.

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