15:31, November 21 250 0 theguardian.com

2019-11-21 15:31:05
Helen McCourt killer to be freed despite not revealing body location

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

Marie McCourt has campaigned relentlessly to block the release of Ian Simms, who killed her daughter Helen.

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

Simms, 63, is 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’s pub was just metres from McCourt’s home 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.

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

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 ratification before parliament was dissolved for the election.

McCourt said the election put her back to “square one” and she urged the new government to introduce Helen’s law as soon as possible.

“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,” she said. “They would have to go into that, they would have to obey that law and it hasn’t happened.”

She said 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 be required to observe a curfew and avoid any contact with the his victim’s family.

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 board hearing, McCourt’s family called on Simms to end the “torture” and finally reveal where the body was hidden.

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