13:47, November 21 226 0 theguardian.com

2019-11-21 13:47:06
Helen McCourt killer due to be freed despite refusing to reveal body

The mother of a murdered woman has said she was horrified by the decision to release her daughter’s killer despite his refusal to reveal where his victim’s body was.

Marie McCourt has campaigned relentlessly to block the release of Ian Simms, the man convicted of killing her daughter, Helen.

Legislation, named “Helen’s law” in her memory, was designed to require parole boards to take into account any refusal to provide information about remains when deciding about release but its passage through parliament has been halted due to the election.

Simms, 63, is now due to be freed after the Parole Board said he “met the test for release” due to factors including the “considerable change in his behaviour”.

The pub landlord, who ran the George and Dragon in Billinge, near Wigan, was convicted based on DNA evidence and has been serving his life sentence at HMP Garth in Leyland, Lancashire. He has always maintained his innocence over the death of McCourt, a 22-year-old insurance clerk who disappeared while travelling home from work in 1988.

Simms’ pub was just yards from McCourt’s home in Billinge, Merseyside and the landlord quickly became a suspect. He was found guilty after the victim’s earring was found in his car boot and was given a life sentence in 1989. He was told he would serve at least 16 years before he could be considered for parole.

Marie McCourt told the Press Association that she was horrified at the decision. She said: “I’ve been fighting for this all these years and the last four years it’s been going through, Helen’s law.”

The law is designed to deny parole to killers who refuse to reveal the location of their victims’ bodies. It made its way through the early stages of parliamentary ratification before it was dissolved for the election.

McCourt said the election put her back to “square one” and risked Simms’ release. She added: “I urge the new government to stop this torture and introduce Helen’s law as soon as possible.”

Speaking after the parole decision, she said: “If Helen’s law had been on the statute books right now, those judges would have to really make sure, in their decision to release him, that he would be safe. They would have to go into that, they would have to obey that law and it hasn’t happened.”

She added she did not know when or where Simms would be released and had “very little to go on”.

Upon release, Simms will have to wear a tagging device so his location can be monitored. He will also observe a curfew and avoid any contact with the family of his victim.

Outlining its verdict, the Parole Board said: “Taking into account the denial, the refusal to reveal where the victim’s body is, all the risk factors, the progress that Mr Simms has made, the considerable change in his behaviour, the fact that he has not been involved in any violence or substance misuse for many years, his protective factors, the recommendations from all the professionals and all the evidence presented at the hearing, the panel was satisfied that Mr Simms met the test for release.”

During a Parole Board hearing, McCourt’s family called on Simms to end the “torture” and reveal once and for all where he hid her body.

“To lose a loved one to murder and never be able to lay them to rest is an unimaginable torture,” she said.

“I hope and pray the parole judges will listen to my plea and that of my son, Michael. And I urge Ian Simms: please, please do the right thing, end this torture … then you also can look forward to a day of being released.”