Bitter sweet legal victory for Helen McCourt's mum
The mother of murdered Helen McCourt voiced strong mixed feelings after laws which could deny parole to killers who refuse to reveal where they hid their victims' bodies gained Royal Assent.
The landmark approval of what is known as "Helen's Law" came to late for the family of the 22-year-old Billinge insurance clerk because the man who took her life was released months ago, despite failing to say what he did with her remains.
But in an exclusive interview with the Wigan Post and wigantoday, Marie McCourt was still delighted that the clause could in future motivate other lifers to reveal that cruel secret if the prospect of release was taken away, and so increase the chances of closure for more victims' loved ones.
The Prisoners (Disclosure Of Information About Victims) Bill is expected to come into force in the coming weeks.
It will also apply to paedophiles who refuse to identify those they abused.
Royal Assent marks the end of a five-year crusade by 77-year-old Marie, her family and friends, which involved the gathering of a huge petition and a number of parliamentary setbacks.
Marie has begged Simms to tell her the whereabouts of her daughter’s body ever since the former Orrell St John Rigby College student vanished on her way home from work in 1988.
Earlier this year the family tried to overturn the Parole Board decision to release him but this was rejected by High Court judges.
So it was a bitter-sweet victory for Marie.
She said: “I am so very pleased that Helen’s Law has gained Royal Assent because it will in future help to give justice to grieving families.
“It’s about time it happened.
“It should have been on the books 12 months ago if not longer, but it is amazing how quickly it went through its final stages at the end.
“I was particularly pleased to hear what the House of Lords had to say about the power of Parole Board judges who, until now, have been unaswerable to anyone. From now on they will have to heed this law, which will I believe, be on the statue book in about two weeks’ time.
“It is just sad that the law didn’t come soon enough to stop Ian Simms from getting out, nor the killer of at least one other person we know of.
“But it means so much to me that other people will be helped. People like those in our situation just want their loved ones’ remains back so they can say a proper farewell. This isn’t about putting criminals behind bars and throwing away the key. As I wrote to Simms saying: if he told me where Helen was he would never hear from me again and he could have been out after 16 years.
“But in the end all the campaigning for Helen’s Law has proved to be worth it.”
Simms, landlord of the then George and Dragon pub on Main Street, was convicted by a jury on overwhelming DNA evidence of Helen’s abduction and murder, but has always maintained his innocence.
MPs voted in favour of the law in 2016 but it did not receive Government backing until last year.
It was then presented to Parliament after being mentioned in the Queen’s Speech.
But the Bill had to be scrapped amid the general election and the prorogation of Parliament, before being brought back for debate for a second time and eventually approved.
Parole Board guidance already says offenders who withhold information may still pose a risk to the public and could therefore face longer in prison.
Courts can also hand down tougher sentences for murderers who deliberately conceal the location of a body.
But the Bill makes it a legal requirement for the Parole Board to take into account a killer’s failure to disclose the location of their victim’s remains when considering them for release.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said: “Denying families a chance to lay their loved ones to rest is a cruelty beyond words, compounding their grief further.
“Helen’s Law makes it absolutely clear that murderers and evil sexual offenders who refuse to disclose information about their victims should expect to face longer behind bars.
“Thanks to the tireless efforts of Marie McCourt and other campaigners more families should get the answers and closure they deserve.”
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