Smart motorway death widow in Sheffield police HQ protest

image copyrightPA Media
image captionClaire Mercer says future smart motorway deaths "will be blood on the hands of the people running our roads"

A widow whose husband was killed on a smart motorway is marking his birthday with a protest calling for police to prosecute Highways England.

Claire Mercer has placed a giant screen image of her husband Jason outside South Yorkshire Police headquarters on what would have been his 46th birthday.

Mr Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu died on a section of the M1 without a hard shoulder in June 2019.

Highways England said it would be "inappropriate" to comment.

Mr Mercer, 44, had pulled over to exchange details after a minor collision with Mr Murgeanu, from Mansfield in Nottinghamshire.

They were both instantly killed when a lorry ploughed into them near junction 34 at Meadowhall in South Yorkshire.

image copyrightPA Media
image captionShe has campaigned against the use of smart motorways since her husband's death

Mrs Mercer, 44, from Rotherham, said: "At no point did Highways Agency technology pick them up.

"It didn't pick them up while they were alive and it didn't pick them up when they were dead on the road stopping the entire motorway."

Smart motorways, which use technology to maintain the flow of traffic and give information on overhead displays, have existed in England since 2002.

The all-lane-running version - which involves opening the hard shoulder permanently to drivers - began in 2014.

Another version uses a "dynamic hard shoulder", which opens and closes to traffic, depending on congestion.

At an inquest in January, Sheffield coroner David Urpeth said the lack of hard shoulder contributed to the men's deaths and that smart motorways "present an ongoing risk of future deaths".

A month later, another coroner referred Highways England to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to consider if corporate manslaughter charges were appropriate over the death of Nargis Begum, 62, who also died on a different stretch of the M1 in September 2018.

image copyrightIrwin Mitchell
image captionNargis Begum was fatally injured in a crash on the M1 in 2018

Mrs Mercer's lawyers have written to South Yorkshire's Chief Constable, Stephen Watson, demanding the same happens in her husband's case.

She said she had been pressing South Yorkshire Police for a year to investigate.

Mrs Mercer said the wrong person had been jailed when lorry driver Prezemyslaw Szuba was given a 10-month sentence for crashing into her husband and Mr Murgeanu.

She added: "It would have been his 46th birthday today so I thought it was an ideal opportunity to commemorate that and make a point because it's just dragging on and on now."

South Yorkshire Police said it was "in the process of obtaining all evidence the coroners had reference to at the inquests into the deaths of Mr Jason Mercer, Mr Alexandru Murgeanu and Mrs Nargis Begum".

It said a senior investigating officer had been assigned and the force had not yet received the evidence from Mr Mercer and Mr Murgeanu's inquest.

A spokesperson added the activity would allow them "to ascertain whether a crime has been committed, with a view to the possible commencement of criminal proceedings".

A Highways England spokesman said: "It would be inappropriate for Highways England to provide comment on the activity of South Yorkshire Police."

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