CRIMINAL charges will not be brought against roads operator National Highways in relation to the deaths of three motorists on the smart motorway stretch of the M1 near Rotherham.
South Yorkshire Police has carried out a “scoping exercise” on the prospect of corporate manslaughter charges in relation to the deaths of Nardis Begum, Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu.
But the force’s assistant chief constable, Sarah Poolman, revealed on Tuesday that a prosecution of the roads agency, previously known as the Highways Agency, for that offence had been ruled out.
Ms Poolman said: “Following concerns expressed by senior coroner Nicola Mundy at the pre-inquest review into the death of Mrs 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 Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu.
“As part of our work, we sought specialist advice from the Crown Prosecution Service.
“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.”
Jason and Mr Murgeanu died in 2019 after stopping their cars following a minor shunt on the all-lanes-running stretch of the M1 and being hit by a lorry.
Jason’s widow, Claire Mercer, of Broom, said she disappointed not only by the outcome of the police investigations but by how it had been announced.
She said that in December, she and Mrs Begum’s family had been told the CPS had rejected a corporate manslaughter charge but the police “were also looking into looking into other options, including gross negligence”.
Claire said that in a meeting with police on Monday, the families had been told “they had five more people to interview and the door was always open”, adding: “We were led to believe there was a lot more hope in other areas.
“When we asked if that was the end of the investigation, they said no.”
South Yorkshire Police said gross negligence manslaughter would be a charge against individuals rather than the road agency.
Ms Poolman said a report of the police’s findings would be handed to the Sheffield Coroner’s Office before Mrs Begum’s inquest is resumed.
Meanwhile, the Claire said she was considering crowdfunding to bring a private prosecution agains National Highways.
The Department for Transport ruled last month that no new smart motorway stretches should be opened until five years of safety data has been compiled but rejected calls from campaigners, including Claire, for existing stretches to revert to having a hard shoulder.