The mother of murdered Helen McCourt has welcomed the return of a “no body, no parole” clause to the parliamentary schedule which she hopes could stop her daughter’s killer from being released.
But while there are now high hopes that “Helen’s Law” will become statute at the third attempt, there is still a danger that unrepentant Ian Simms’s release could take place within days if a judge upholds a Parole Board decision to let him go.
The 63-year-old former Billinge landlord has been in prison since his arrest for Helen’s disappearance in February 1988.
He was later unanimously convicted, mainly on forensic evidence, of the 22-year-old insurance clerk’s murder despite her body’s never having been found.
Simms has continued to deny his guilt and, as a result, has spent 16 years more behind bars than he would have if he had come clean.
But in recent months there have been legal moves to release him, first by moving him to a lower category of jail, then allowing him escorted and unescorted trips out of prison and then came the parole board decision to release him.
This despite his showing no remorse, engaging in rehabilitative processes in jail, and not revealing the whereabouts of his victim’s remains.
Earlier this month though, justice secretary Robert Buckland made a rare intervention and said there were grounds for the verdict to be reconisdered and he ordered another independent parole board judge to conduct an inquiry which includes interviewing Simms.
It is possible that that verdict could be returned within days, before which Simms cannot be released.
Should the judge uphold the decision, the killer could be back on our streets - under strict licence terms - within days and there would be nothing that the passing of a Helen’s Law in a few months’ time could do retrospectively to reverse it.
If the original parole board verdict is overturned, then Simms would stay in prison and the likelihood is that he wouldn’t have time to appeal again before Helen’s Law is passed.
Today Helen’s mum Marie said: “I am very pleased that Helen’s Law appeared in the Queen’s speech again today. I don’t think there was any question of its not having been there on the schedule, given that it received cross-party support on the two previous attempts to get it through Parliament, no matter what colour of government had been in power now.
“The paper only fell the previous times because general elections were called.
“All I can wait for now is the news from the parole judge which could come any day now. I am just praying that the verdict is the one I want to hear.
“I cannot believe that the board saw it fit to release Simms when he has not participated in rehabilitation activities, has shown no remorse, is still failing to say where Helen’s body is and therefore could still be a danger to society.”
In her speech to Parliament, the Queen stated that “Legislation will be brought forward to support victims of crime and their families.”
It will be called Prisoners (Disclosure of Information about Victims) Bill.
Announcing his fitnesses to be released, despite reservations from two prison supervisors, he Parole Board said: “Taking into account the denial, the refusal to reveal where the victim’s body is, all the risk factors, the progress that Mr Simms has made, the considerable change in his behaviour, the fact that he has not been involved in any violence or substance misuse for many years, his protective factors, the recommendations from all the professionals and all the evidence presented at the hearing, the panel was satisfied that Mr Simms met the test for release.”
It added that it had given greater weight to psychiatric reports than other testimonies and also said that it felt that if Simms were to be kept in prison for the rest of his life, he would still never open up about Helen’s body.