Coroner refers case of Sheffield grandmother killed on smart motorway on for investigation into criminal charges against Highways England

Highways England could face criminal charges after a coroner referred the death of a Yorkshire woman killed on a smart motorway on to prosecutors for investigation.

Grandmother-of-nine Nargis Begum, 62, was killed on the M1 after a vehicle crashed into her car which was sitting stationary on a live lane near Woodhall Services in South Yorkshire in September 2018.

Mrs Begum's Nissan Qashqai had broken down in the lane which is traditionally used as a hard shoulder, but was open as an extra lane to ease traffic at the time.

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The grandmother from Sheffield was standing at the roadside waiting for help when another vehicle crashed into her car, causing it to plough into her.

Nargis BegumNargis Begum
Nargis Begum

A pre-inquest review hearing at Doncaster Coroner's Court today (Thursday) heard coroner Nicola Mundy had concerns about the length of time Mrs Begum's stationary vehicle went undetected.

At a previous hearing, Ms Mundy was told that 16 minutes elapsed between the Nissan breaking down and the collision, and it took a further six minutes before warning signs were activated.

It comes just weeks after a coroner in Sheffield ruled that the deaths of two men killed on the same stretch of motorway had died as a result of 'unlawful killing, and proposed to write to Highways England and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps over the issue of smart motorways.

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Sheffield coroner David Urpeth said that the deaths of two men, Jason Mercer, 42, and 22-year-old Alexandru Murgeanu, could have been avoided had there been a hard shoulder on the highway where they were killed by a lorry driven by a man who did not have his full attention on the road.

Nargis Begum, pictured with her husband Mohammed BsshirNargis Begum, pictured with her husband Mohammed Bsshir
Nargis Begum, pictured with her husband Mohammed Bsshir

Referring Mrs Begum’s case onto the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) yesterday, Ms Munday there was a “distinct lack of knowledge and education of drivers” in relation to how the “onus is on them” to report incidents.

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Ms Mundy also cited the fact that “nobody has responsibility over monitoring cameras” as a factor in her decision to refer for investigation into corporate manslaughter.

Companies found guilty of corporate manslaughter face unlimited fines, according to the Sentencing Council.

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Smart motorways operate by opening the hard shoulder as a live laneSmart motorways operate by opening the hard shoulder as a live lane
Smart motorways operate by opening the hard shoulder as a live lane

Mrs Begum had been a passenger when the car driven by her husband Mohammed Bashir, 67, broke down.

The couple’s stranded Nissan was sitting with its hazard lights on when another vehicle using the lane collided into the car, pushing it into Mrs Begum.

It was also heard that the driver of the vehicle which crashed into the Begums’ car would not face prosecution.

Minutes before the collision, the couple had phoned their daughter who later arrived at the scene to find paramedics trying desperately to save her mother.

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Their daughter Saima Akhtar said following yesterday’s hearing: “That my dad avoided injury but his loving and caring wife of 45 years died in front of him has taken its toll on him.

“We’re pleased that the coroner has taken our concerns seriously and has referred our mum’s death to the CPS.”

Christopher Kardajhi, the specialist road accident lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing Nargis’s family, said after the inquest hearing: “Nargis was the heartbeat of the family and understandably her loved ones remain devastated by their loss."

He added: "We and Nargis’s family welcome the coroner’s decision to refer her death to the Crown Prosecution Service. All the family want is for no stone to be left unturned and the most thorough and transparent investigation to be held examining all of the facts so all possible lessons can be learned."

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A spokesman for Highways England said: “Our deepest sympathies are with the family of Mrs Begum, and all those affected by this tragic incident.

“Although we do not believe Highways England has committed any offence we will of course co-operate fully in any investigation.”

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