New lead in quest to find the body of murdered Helen McCourt
Family of murdered Helen McCourt are doubtful but thankful that a well-meaning new tip-off could finally trace the missing insurance clerk’s body - very close to home.
The 22-year-old was last seen alive on the stormy evening of February 9, 1988 just a few hundred yards from her house in Billinge as she came home from work in Liverpool.
Landlord of the nearby pub the George and Dragon, Ian Simms, would later be arrested, charged and eventually convicted of Helen’s killing but her remains have never been found.
The notorious case has featured in several TV documentaries over the years, one of which - When Missing Turns to Murder - has suddenly found a new large audience on Netflix.
It was this that prompted viewer Katie Sloan to contact us to say that her terminally ill grandmother had spotted Simms acting suspiciously near her Billinge home on the night Helen vanished, but she had never told anyone because everyone was frightened of him.
The confession from 85-year-old Josephine Sloan was that she used to live next door to Simms in the 1980s on Stuart Crescent. By the time of the murder Simms had moved to Birchley Road, but at between 7pm and 8pm, the then 52-year-old was standing on the corner of Main Street and Ash Grove Crescent when she said she saw his Volkswagen driving down a dirt track towards farmland nearby in the dark with his lights off.
Katie said: “When she shared this information to me at the time, I phoned Merseyside police immediately. However, as you can imagine, they seemed uninterested as Simms had served his time and was back on the streets.
“But when I watched When Missing Turns to Murder and saw how much distress this tragedy is causing, I felt I had to get in touch with the Wigan Post. I didn’t want that information on my conscience.
“It would be so nice to provide some comfort to this poor family who have not been able to say a proper farewell to Helen.”
Helen’s mum Marie and stepfather John Sandwell said they were very grateful to Kate for coming forward but after making some inquiries it does look like the area was searched soon after Helen’s disappearance.
John said: “We know the farm in question and the family who live there. The farmer died a couple of years ago but I went up to speak to the son who was 14 at the time.
“He remembers his dad talking about the inquiry and he remembers police coming up the track, into the wooded area and searching the farm fields for any signs of land disturbances of places where something could be secreted. Officers were going through grain stores and piles of sugar beet.
“It seems they conducted a thorough search of the buildings and grounds and drew a blank.
“On reflection it wouldn’t be the best hiding place. You only go 100 yards up the track before you find yourself in a farmyard. And the farm have always had several dogs who would have raised the alarm.
“That said, we are very thankful to Katie for making contact. We would not want to discourage anyone because we always welcome fresh leads.”
Marie said she believes the likeliest location for where Helen’s body lies is within a triangle described by Hollins Green in Warrington, Rishton in Salford and an area known as the clay pits. At each of these sites were items - including Helen’s and Simms’s clothes plus a spade found - but not the victim herself.
She also speculated that he was driving around looking for suitable sites where he could conceal Helen and this may have been what Josephine Sloan saw.
Simms, now 65, was released from prison almost two years ago. He had served many years longer than he would have done if he had confessed to the murder and revealed the whereabouts of his victim’s body. But, despite being unanimously convicted by a jury presented with a welter of forensic evidence, he has always maintained his innocence. A condition of being released is that he does not come back to Billinge, nor the areas where evidence was found.
The information has been passed on to Merseyside Police.
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