Murder victim’s mother has new hopes of blocking killer’s parole

Murder victim Helen McCourt
Murder victim Helen McCourt
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A Billinge mum’s bid to stop her daughter’s killer being released from jail has been boosted by news from Down Under.

Marie McCourt is in a race against time to push through legislation that would once again prevent murderers from being freed unless they have shown remorse and admitted their crime rather than just having to prove they no longer pose a risk to society.

And she could now only be days away from discovering whether the Ministry of Justice is going to accept or reject a Parole Board recommendation that former Billinge landlord Ian Simms, who killed Mrs McCourt’s 22-year-old daughter Helen in 1988 but has never revealed her body’s whereabouts, be moved to an open prison.

It is an anxious wait, but Mrs McCourt was buoyed this week by news of two landmark cases in Australia which could give the ministry extra pause for thought.

The state of West Australia is considering introducing a “no body, no parole” law following campaigns by two different families whose loved ones’ remains have never been discovered and whose killers have been bidding for prison release.

And South Australia has already introduced such a piece of legislation. Petitions were drawn up which, while large, are completely dwarfed by the 320,000-name list presented by Mrs McCourt at Downing Street earlier this year asking for a similar move.

Mrs McCourt, who was due to appear on ITV’s Good Morning show today (Thursday) with son Michael talking about the Simms parole issue, said she was pleased by the news.

She added: “The families have successfully argued for change and presented petitions which have been drawn up over quite a long time. This gives me hope because the petition I have presented is much larger and has grown by another 10,000 names since we went to Downing Street. Public opinion is very clear on this.

“How can Simms be safe to release if he has not owned up to his crime and revealed where Helen’s body is?”

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It is more than 28 years since Billinge insurance clerk Helen vanished on her way home from work.

Thousands took part in searches at the time and her family have never given up their quest. But while items of Helen’s clothing and other personal effects were recovered at more than one location, her body remains unfound. A memorial bench in the churchyard of Birchley St Mary’s is the nearest she has for a headstone.

Simms, 59, was convicted unanimously by a Liverpool Crown Court jury of murder after incriminating forensic and witness evidence was presented. He continues to protest his innocence but all bids to overturn the verdict have failed.

If moved to open conditions, he could be eligible for accompanied town visits after three months and eventual complete release on licence, a term of which would prevent him from entering Wigan or St Helens.