No bones found at hospital site

A dead body alert sparked by workmen at the former Billinge Hospital has proved to be a false alarm.

Extensive searching of drainage pipes by police search teams has concluded what were thought to be skeletal remains were in fact sections of grimy polystyrene.

For a brief while hopes had been raised that the final resting place of murdered Billinge 22-year-old Helen McCourt had at last been found after almost 20 years of searching. Sadly for her family the hunt now goes on.

Police say the workmen, who were about to cap the manhole as construction of a new housing estate continues, were right to contact them.

A spokesman said: "The call was made in good faith and it was certainly better to be safe rather than sorry.

"They had looked down the drain and seen what looked like vertebrae and possibly some other bone fragment but they turned out to be pieces of polysterene packaging and part of a plastic cup."

Earlier Helen's mum Marie had praised the workmen for their vigilance, saying that while it had turned out to be a false alarm, it was this kind of diligence which might one day lead to a breakthrough at long last.

"I would rather they have reported something they had suspicions about than have said 'we're not having anything to do with this' and filled in the hole forever. Then we would never have known the truth."

Helen McCourt disappeared on February 9 1988 after arriving back in Billinge from her work in Liverpool as an insurance clerk.

Even though her body has never been found, Ian Simms, the landlord of the George and Dragon pub in Main Street, was later convicted of her murder. He is still behind bars and still maintaining his innocence.