Family of smart motorway victim sues National Highways

The family of a smart motorway victim is suing National Highways after police decided against pressing corporate manslaughter charges.

Solicitors working for the family of Nargis Begum are now trying to establish through a civil case that the removal of the permanent hard shoulder contributed to her death.

The 62-year-old died on a stretch of smart motorway on the M1 in South Yorkshire, near Woodall Services, in September 2018.

Smart motorways are stretches where the hard shoulder is converted into a “live lane” to allow more traffic to flow.

The move comes after South Yorkshire Police confirmed on Tuesday that National Highways, which was previously called Highways England, will not face corporate manslaughter charges over Mrs Begum’s death and a second fatal crash on a smart motorway that killed two men.

The police investigation came after a coroner concluded that smart motorways “present an ongoing risk of future deaths” following an inquest into the deaths of Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22.

Smart motorways, such as this one on the M3 in Surrey, are stretches where the hard shoulder is converted into a ‘live lane’ to allow more traffic to flow Credit: Steve Parsons/PA

Both men died in 2019 on a different stretch of the M1 to Mrs Begum after being hit by a lorry after pulling over into a live lane to exchange details after a collision.

Nicola Mundy, a Doncaster coroner, then referred National Highways to the Crown Prosecution Service to consider if corporate manslaughter charges were appropriate in relation to the death of Ms Begum, a grandmother.

Not liable for the offence of corporate manslaughter

On Tuesday, South Yorkshire Police said the evidence did not meet the threshold for launching a corporate manslaughter case.

Sarah Poolman, temporary Assistant Chief Constable, said: “Having considered the CPS advice, we have concluded that in the circumstances, Highways England cannot be held liable for the offence of corporate manslaughter.”

Following the decision, Irwin Mitchell, the law firm representing Mrs Begum’s family, said they would be proceeding with a civil action, which is also calling for smart motorways to be scrapped.

The firm is also representing Jason Mercer’s widow Claire, who has launched a judicial review against smart motorways. 

Helen Smith, a specialist smart motorways lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Claire and Nargis’s family as well as many others continue to have serious concerns about smart motorways and their safety.”

Following the decision by the police, Nick Harris, chief executive of National Highways, said: “We participated fully in the police investigation and we will continue to fully participate with the Coroner’s investigation.”

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