History of Helen McCourt murder

Ian Simms held for the murder of Helen McCourt
Ian Simms held for the murder of Helen McCourt
Share this article

The murder of Helen McCourt is one of the most notorious crimes in St Helens history.

Returning from work, the insurance clerk vanished as a bus dropped her in Billinge, 500 yards from her home on February 9 1988.

Police investigations led to her local pub the George and Dragon where she worked as a barmaid in the past but two days earlier had been involved in a fracas with a woman and landlord Ian Simms.

It was speculated that Helen, 22, called into the pub on the stormy Tuesday night to speak to Simms, 31, to smooth things over and ensure she was welcome back. It was ventured they rowed about her knowing he was having an affair.

Within minutes of Helen’s arriving, a man getting off a bus outside heard a scream coming from the pub which was cut short, as if by a hand clamped over a mouth.

The pub’s cleaner found Simms scouring the bottom of the staircase with bleach, claiming his dog had made a mess.

Fifteen miles away, butcher Gordon Bannister was walking his dog on a towpath by the Manchester Ship Canal in the Hollins Green suburb of Warrington when he found a blood-stained towel.

On an embankment by the A57 he spotted a second towel and several items of discarded men’s clothing. The jumper was emblazoned with the logo of Labatts beer, popular at the George and Dragon.

As Simms was questioned by police, blood and part of an opal and sapphire earring – identical to ones given to Helen for her 21st – were found in the boot of his Passat.

Police broke the news to Simms and arrested him on suspicion of murder. The boot bloodstain, he added, was made by his dog which had cut its paw and that someone must have planted his clothes by the canal to frame him.

Two fingerprints left in blood were found on his flat’s door and experts said one was Simms’.

Helen’s handbag, coat, jeans and scarf were later found in Irlam along with a flex which is thought to have been the murder weapon.

Simms was charged with murder and, despite continually protesting his innocence, was convicted after a 16-day trial. It was one of the first in legal history where conviction had been secured without a body, and the first using DNA fingerprinting.