The family of murdered Helen McCourt have declared the taking of their justice quest to Parliament and Downing Street “a very positive and productive day.”
They were in London yesterday to lobby ministers and present Number 10 with a 320,000-name petition calling for “Helen’s Law” which would deny killers freedom for as long as they withhold key evidence such as where their victims’ remains are.
This is precisely what former Billinge landlord Ian Simms is doing, but he and Helen’s family learned this week that, after 28 years in jail, the parole board has recommended to the Ministry of Justice that he be moved to an open prison.
It was the piece of news that the 22-year-old insurance clerk’s mum Marie had been dreading. If ministry officials approve 59-year-old Simms’s move and he behaves himself, he could allowed out for escorted trips within three months and then released on licence.
Mrs McCourt’s husband John Sandwell revealed that Prisons Minister Andrew Selous has written to Parole Board chairman David Calvert Smith calling for a review of the guidelines for releasing prisoners in Simms’s situation.
And St Helens North MP Connor McGinn, who joined them for the mission, has backed those calls to the board with a letter of his own.
It has been a very positive and productive day and certainly wasn’t a waste of time. Mr Penning had clearly read up on the situation; he listened, was very compassionate and understanding and asked a lot of questionsMarie McCourt’s husband John Sandwell
The law used to prevent convicts’ release if they failed to show remorse and reveal the whereabouts of their missing victims and Mrs McCourt says she received reassurances from two Home Secretaries that Helen’s murderer would not go free unless he gave her family the answers they want. But then the law changed and prisoners only now have to show they no longer pose a threat.
Simms has always maintained his innocence - hence his not telling where Helen’s body is - but Mrs McCourt says he sent her a letter from his cell threatening “justice” when he was out. And she is far from convinced that he is no longer a danger.
Mrs McCourt’s son Michael, niece Fiona Duffy and Mr Sandwell, met the victims minister Mike Penning who has asked Mrs McCourt to help him develop a “Victims’ Law” too.
Mr Sandwell said: “It has been a very positive and productive day and certainly wasn’t a waste of time. Mr Penning had clearly read up on the situation; he listened, was very compassionate and understanding and asked a lot of questions.
“We were also delighted to hear about Mr Selous’s letter to the Parole Board about the release criteria and still hoping the the ministry will reject the board recommendations about Simms.”
A ministry decision is expected within the next month.