Helen McCourt's mother fails to send daughter's killer back to jail

Helen McCourt’s mother fails in bid to send her daughter’s killer back to prison until he reveals where he hid her body more than 30 years ago

  • Marie McCourt says Ian Simms should not have been released from jail this year
  • She claims Parole Board’s decision to release Simms, 63, on licence was wrong
  • Simms has repeatedly refused to disclose where he hid Helen McCourt’s body
  • Helen was murdered in Billinge, Merseyside, in February 1988 while going home 

The mother of a woman murdered by a pub landlord more than 30 years ago has today failed in her bid to send her daughter’s killer back to jail.

Marie McCourt says that Ian Simms should not be released from prison until he reveals where Helen McCourt’s body is hidden.

The pensioner claims that a November 2019 Parole Board decision to release Simms on licence was wrong and should be reviewed.  

She also said his refusal to disclose Helen’s location should have been central to whether to free him, and that he remained a risk to the public.

But today two judges ruled against her after considering Mrs McCourt’s judicial review application at a virtual High Court in July, saying that the Parole Board’s decision ‘involved no arguable public law error’. 

It comes after five years of campaigning by Mrs McCourt for legislation dubbed Helen’s Law – supported by the Mail – to force the Parole Board to consider a killer’s failure to reveal where their victim’s body is before release. 

Marie McCourt says Ian Simms should not be released from prison until he reveals where Helen McCourt’s body is hidden. But today two judges ruled against her after considering Mrs McCourt’s judicial review application at a virtual High Court in July

Ian Simms (right),  63, served 30 years for the murder of 22-year-old insurance clerk Helen McCourt (left) in 1988. He has repeatedly refused to disclose Helen’s body

Speaking after the ruling, Mrs McCourt said that she is ‘very very disappointed’ and does not have the ‘energy, stamina or money’ to lodge an appeal.

I am very very disappointed. I think we had a good case and I did my best,’ she said.

‘Unfortunately the appeal judges agreed with the Parole Board decision and that means that Ian Simms will not be sent back to prison.

‘I have seven days to lodge an appeal but at the moment I don’t think I have the energy, stamina or money to do that.

‘It is sad that Helen’s Law – which would stop a killer who doesn’t reveal the whereabouts of a victim’s remains – has not come soon enough to prevent Simms’s release but I hope it will bring justice for other families in future.

‘Meanwhile I will never give up my search for Helen.’

Lady Justice Macur and Mr Justice Chamberlain heard that Helen was murdered in Billinge, Merseyside, in February 1988, while on her way home. 

Mrs McCourt holding a photo of her daughter Helen after she gave evidence last November

Simms was convicted of abduction and murder after a trial at Liverpool Crown Court in March 1989 and given a life sentence, with a minimum term of 16 years. The remains of the 22-year-old insurance clerk have never been found. 

The case is a rare example where a murder conviction has been obtained without the presence of a body, and was one of the first in the UK to use DNA fingerprinting. 

In a written ruling today, the judges said: ‘The panel were acutely aware of the sensitivities in this case and adopted a careful and balanced approach both to the procedure to be adopted and to the assessment of Simms’ current risk.’    

A Parole Board spokesman said after the ruling: ‘The Parole Board notes the decision of the court in the judicial review proceedings brought by Marie McCourt.

‘The Parole Board has immense sympathy for families of victims who have never been found and recognises the pain and anguish they have endured.  

‘The board remains absolutely committed to ensuring that victims and their families are treated with the utmost respect and dignity during the parole process and appreciates the distress that a parole review of the offender is likely to cause.

‘The Parole Board is however required by law to focus on whether a prisoner’s continued detention remains necessary for the protection of the public.

‘As a body making judicial decisions, the Parole Board does not ordinarily defend its decisions when they are reviewed by a senior court and took a neutral stance on the challenge to its decision in this judicial review.

‘The court, in this case, found the Parole Board panel’s decision and its approach was legally sound. The underlying legal issues raised in this case are complex and emotive and the board will keep its guidance under review.

‘It is not for the Parole Board to publicly defend the decisions of its members, who are entirely independent, and it would be inappropriate to get into the rights and wrongs of any particular decision.’

Marie McCourt holding a photo portrait of her murdered 22-year-old daughter, Helen

Convicted murderer Simms, now 63, was released in February after the Parole Board said he was no longer a danger to the public. 

Tom Little QC, representing Mrs McCourt, told the court in July that this decision was ‘unreasonable’ and had asked the judges to quash it.

‘He must have known, and still knows, the location of Helen’s body. Despite this, he has refused to disclose this for over three decades,’ he said at the time. 

The Government has committed to introducing a ‘Helen’s Law’ to keep killers who stay silent about where they concealed their victims’ bodies in prison for longer. 

Under the plans, the Parole Board would have a legal duty to reflect a convict’s failure to speak up when considering if they should be freed from jail.

Former Justice Secretary David Gauke had been determined to bring in a law to end the injustice, which leaves tormented families in a cruel emotional limbo. 

Robert Buckland, the Justice Secretary, told the Mail in October last year that he was committed to getting the law on the statute book as quickly as possible.

‘I’m very committed to Helen’s Law. I met Marie when David was Secretary of State and her ordeal is harrowing,’ Mr Buckland said. 

Current guidelines state the Parole Board should take into account the fact that a killer has not disclosed the site of their victim’s body but Helen’s Law will make it a legal requirement for the first time.

Helen’s Law, officially called the Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill, was passed unopposed by MPs in March.

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