The family of murdered Helen McCourt was dealt a devastating blow last night as police declared that the search of a churchyard grave for her body had drawn a blank.
Earlier in the day the victim’s mum, Marie, had said that all her hope was riding on this “best chance” of recovering her daughter’s remains more than 25 years after she disappeared.
But after 18 hours of excavation, sifting and the delicate removal of coffins from a family plot at St Aidan’s, Billinge, officers reported that nothing unexpected had been found.
Ian Simms, then landlord of the George and Dragon in Main Street, Billinge, was jailed for life for Helen’s murder, but has always refused to reveal the location of the body.
Marie, who has never given up hope of finding her daughter’s remains, said last night that she was “gutted”.
She added: “I had really hoped that this was the breakthrough that we had so long been waiting for.
“I had been thinking that it would mean no more listening out for news reports every time a body is found, and no more searching.
“But it was not to be and now we have to pick ourselves up and start looking again.
“To give in would be to give Ian Simms another victim.
“At least the family of those whose grave was disturbed can now have peace.”
Police had been acting on information suggesting that on the night 22-year-old insurance clerk Helen vanished in February 1988 on her way home from work in Liverpool, Simms disposed of her body in a grave that had been opened for a funeral that was to take place only two days later.
It was believed he dug down further, either placing Helen’s body inside another coffin below or simply beneath the exposed earth base of the grave.
Then two days later, a fresh casket was laid in the grave at a burial ceremony and it was filled in without the church or mourners realising anything was untoward.
An elderly couple who live near the church told our sister paper, the Wigan Evening Post yesterday day that they recalled police digging a trench at St Aidan’s during the very early days of the search for Helen.
But like all other lines of inquiry on locating the body, it came to nothing.
Simms has been in prison ever since he was weeks after Helen’s disappearance. He has continued to insist he is innocent despite overwhelming evidence against him.