Helen's Law 'may come too late', says victim's mother

By Jamilla Malik
BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme

image copyrightPA
image captionHelen McCourt was murdered by Ian Simms in Billinge, Merseyside, in 1988

A woman whose daughter was murdered three decades ago has said she is running out of time to find out where the body is.

Marie McCourt, whose daughter Helen was killed in 1988, has successfully fought for a new law to prevent killers being freed if they do not reveal the location of their victims' bodies.

But her daughter's killer may be released before the law goes through.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland QC said he had "immense sympathy".

Unaccompanied day trips

The bill to enact "Helen's Law" was presented to the House of Commons on Tuesday, after being included in Monday's Queen's Speech.

It will place a legal duty on parole boards to consider the cruelty of killers who refuse to give the location of a victim's remains when assessing their release.

It will also apply to paedophiles who take indecent images of children but refuse to disclose their identity, "and could therefore see them locked away for longer", the Ministry of Justice has said.

It is expected to become law in spring 2020.

Helen McCourt's killer Ian Simms is shortly due to be considered for parole.

He has previously been released from prison for unaccompanied day trips, despite refusing to reveal where he hid his victim's body, which Helen's family fear is a sign he will be permanently let out.

media caption'Why should he be let out to torture us some more?'

Ms McCourt told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme the bill was "fantastic" and will help "so many families" who have been "tortured" by their loved one's killers in the way that she has.

But, she asked, "What's the point of it being in the Queen's Speech if it's not going to get signed off any quicker?"

She said she was "begging" people to talk to their local MPs and tell them "this isn't right".

"Our family is running out of time to get this over the line before he is released," she added.

"We've been trying so hard but we're just not there yet.

"If he comes out, he could come into our village. He could stalk me, he could stalk our family.

"He's tortured us all these years. Why should he be allowed out to torture us even more?"

Murder conviction

Ms McCourt disappeared in February 1988 at the age of 22, on her way home from her work as an insurance clerk.

Simms, who owned a pub close to her Billinge home in Merseyside, quickly became a suspect.

He was convicted of murder after blood and an earring - identical to one of Ms McCourt's - were found in his car boot.

Simms was jailed for life in 1989 and told he would have to serve at least 16 years before he could be considered for parole.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionMP Conor McGinn and Marie McCourt presented a petition at Downing Street in 2018

"I can't get closure not knowing where she is," Ms McCourt said.

"I still spend so much of my time looking for her. I spend all my money buying shovels and spades and looking for places I can dig to find her.

"This law is so important - not just for my family but for so many others too.

"All we want is to know where our loved ones are."

Ms McCourt's local MP, Labour's Conor McGinn, told Victoria Derbyshire that Simms "should never be released, unless he discloses [the location of the body]".

"I don't think it's an unreasonable ask."

Justice Secretary Mr Buckland said in a statement: "Innocent families should never have their grief compounded by offenders who refuse to disclose information on their victims.

"Not only will this bill help prevent the torture of families in Marie's situation but we also believe evil sexual offenders who refuse to identify victims should face longer behind bars."

Follow the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme on Facebook and Twitter - and see more of our stories here.

More on this story

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.