Future smart motorway deaths 'will be blood on the hands of those running our roads' says Yorkshire campaigner as she stages protest outside police headquarters on what would have been husband's 46th birthday

A South Yorkshire widow who wants Highways England prosecuted over the death of her husband on a smart motorway is staging a protest outside police headquarters this afternoon.

Claire Mercer, from Rotherham, said future smart motorway deaths "will be blood on the hands of the people running our roads" as she prepared to mark what would have been Jason Mercer's 46th birthday by placing a giant screen outside South Yorkshire Police's HQ.

Mr Mercer died on part of the M1 which has no hard shoulder - along with another motorist, Alexandru Murgeanu - when a lorry ploughed into them little more than a mile from the HQ building in Sheffield, in June 2019.

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At an inquest in January, Sheffield coroner David Urpeth said: "I find, as a finding of fact, it is clear a lack of hard shoulder contributed to this tragedy."

Claire Mercer, whose husband Jason was killed along with Alexandru Murgeanu when they stopped on a section of smart motorway on the M1 near Sheffield after a minor collision and were then hit by a lorry, protests outside South Yorkshire Police HQ in Sheffield, where she is calling on the chief constable to prosecute Highways England over her husband's death.

He told an inquest at Sheffield Town Hall: "I believe that smart motorways, as things currently stand, present an ongoing risk of future deaths."

A month later, Doncaster coroner Nicola Mundy referred Highways England to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to consider if corporate manslaughter charges are appropriate in relation to the death of grandmother Nargis Begum, 62, who died on a different stretch of the M1 in September 2018.

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

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"Two coroners have now highlighted the dangers within the past couple of months.

"Now statistics are further proving the case but now we need action. Every future death involving stationary vehicles on roads which were previously hard shoulders will be blood on the hands of the people running our roads."

Mrs Mercer, 44, said the wrong person had been jailed when lorry driver Prezemyslaw Szuba was given a 10-month sentence last year after ploughing into her husband and Mr Murgeanu.

Her solicitor, Neil Hudgell, said: "Our client feels strongly that there is a case to answer for the offence of corporate manslaughter in relation to Jason's death and we have written to the Chief Constable stating just that."

He said: "Highways England can't be allowed to simply see the deaths of Jason, Mrs Begum and so many others as statistics. It can't be right for people to die in the future on these roads only to become a statistic too.

"Our client strongly believes that hard shoulders must be reintroduced on these motorways until evidence proves they can be operated safely when incidents occur and drivers need to take refuge in a safe space."

Last month, South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Dr Alan Billings said he would "strongly urge" Highways England and the Department for Transport to think again about smart motorways following another serious injury collision on the M1 in the county.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps published a smart motorways action plan in March 2020.

In a statement, South Yorkshire Police said: "As previously reported, South Yorkshire Police is 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.

"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 Services."

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