HELEN McCourt’s devastated mum fears killer Ian Simms could strike again if set free.
In an exclusive interview, a tearful Marie McCourt said that the pub landlord had done nothing to show remorse for his crime and had threatened her in a letter from his cell years ago, implying he would have his revenge once released.
Mrs McCourt’s worst nightmare - that he is looking increasingly likely to be freed without disclosing what he did with her 22-year-old daughter’s body - began to come true when she took a phone call from her Probation Board victim information officer yesterday afternoon.
She was driving alone near her home town of Billinge, not far from where Helen was last seen alive 28 years ago this month, when the message came.
She says it was not a complete surprise but her feeling of despair and distress has not been diminished by that.
The 72-year-old campaigning mum believes that her “last best chance” to stop Simms’s liberation and/or get him to reveal his darkest secret is to lobby ministers today to ensure the Ministry of Justice does not endorse the parole recommendation that he be moved to an open prison.
If released on licence he would not be able to come into the immediate area which seems to include most of Wigan and St Helens. But who would be policing that forever more? The public have to be protected and how can they protect me?Marie McCourt
This would be during a scheduled trip to Parliament Mrs McCourt was making to Parliament today while presenting ministers with a petition relating to her daughter’s death bearing more than 100,000 names.
It urges the Government to introduce Helen’s Law which would make hiding a body, preventing a burial and obstructing a coroner becoming a criminal offences that would carry a “whole life” tariff.
But even if introduced, it is looking increasingly likely to be legislation that would comes too late to prevent Simms’s release.
The probation service message given to Mrs McCourt said that the former landlord of the George and Dragon in Billinge, who turns 60 this year, has been recommended by the parole board that he be moved from the Category C Wymott Prison in Leyland in the next few weeks to a Category D open prison.
If the Ministry of Justice approves this and he does not blot his copybook there, he could apply for escorted town visits after just three months, with the ultimate aim of his being freed on licence.
Breach of that licence - including encroaching into a Wigan and St Helens exclusion zone, threatening or attacking witnesses or committing further crimes - would see him back behind bars.
But Mrs McCourt today voiced fears for all those who have spoken against Simms would be endangered by his release, including herself, doubting the authorities could properly protect those in danger and keep close enough watch on Simms.
She said: “How can this man be safe to release? He sent me a threatening letter from prison, he has never admitted his crime, shown remorse or disclosed where Helen’s body is.
“He is a sociopath who wrote to me from his prison cell saying he would ‘have justice’ once he is out.
“I have got to speak to the justice minister at Parliament and I will speak to my MP Connor McGinn to see if he can arrange for me to meet the Home Secretary while in London. I want to say to the ministers: ‘how are you going to protect me and people who testified againts him now he is out?’
“The Ministry of Justicee has the power to block the Parole Board recommendations but it is very uncommon for that to happen.
“But I want to know what happened to the pledge made to the British people when the death penalty was abolished that killers would not be released unless they are safe to be released.
“For all we know he may have killed before. Maybe the reason he never disclosed where he put Helen, despite the overwhelming evidence against him, was because he put her where there are other bodies. And maybe once out he could kill again and put them in the same place too.”
Mrs McCourt recalled the moment she took the call of his imminent release.
She said: “My mobile rang and it was my victim information officer at Probation. She asked me where I was; I said I was in my car; then she asked me if (husband) John was with me and I said ‘no, I’m on my own.’
“She suggested I pull over and by then of course I knew what was coming next.
“She said the parole board said Simms wasn’t being released immediately but maybe in the next few months. They have recommended he be moved into open conditions. For the first three months he would not be allowed out but then, if he behaves himself - and he surely would - he could apply to go on escorted home visits.
“My first hope would be that whatever Category D prison he got moved to would be well away from this part of the country: somewhere far north or south. It is usually a month after a parole hearing that a prisoner is moved to open conditions and, as it is more than a fortnight since then, he could be transferred in the next week or two.
“If released on licence he would not be able to come into the immediate area which seems to include most of Wigan and St Helens.
“But who would be policing that forever more? The public have to be protected and how can they protect me?
“Simms is very cunning and is a man who wants to get even. A leopard never changes his spots.
“An awful lot of people are going to be petrified too, including witnesses and those who testified to his acts of violence. He is not someone you will mess with.
“He will learn from his previous mistakes. The chances are people can go missing.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “The independent Parole Board has made its recommendation. We seek to respond to Parole Board recommendations within 28 days.”