A crusading mum marked her murdered daughter’s birthday with a new publicity drive in Wigan town centre aimed at keeping her killer behind bars.
Sunday would have seen Helen McCourt turn 52 and it was the 30th year running that mother Marie had to observe what should be a celebratory date without her loved one’s being there.
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The Billinge insurance clerk was murdered by pub landlord Ian Simms in 1988 but her body has never been found. Despite always protesting his innocence, Simms was unanimously convicted of the 22-year-old’s murder and has remained behind bars far longer than most killers on account of his unrepentance and the lack of closure for his victim’s family.
But in recent years Mrs McCourt has been striving to prevent his possible release based on the premise that if he doesn’t admit his guilt - and the whereabouts of Helen’s remains - he does not deserve to have his liberty restored.
In recent weeks Simms has enjoyed several escorted and unescorted out-of-prison visits after the parole board moved him to a lower category of jail.
The next phase is for him to spend a weekend in a hostel.
But ministers have ordered that anyone in a “no body, no parole” situation like Simms should now not be released completely until “Helen’s law” is passed or rejected by Parliament.
Pre-Brexit concerns remain, however, that the European Court of Human Rights could yet find favour with the likes of Simms and let him go.
Which is why Mrs McCourt is continuing her Helen’s law crusade and wants the 456,000-name petition she has been promoting to reach 500,000 so that it has even greater impact.
As part of this push she and supporters gave out yellow ribbons and rosettes for people to put on show in support of the drive and sign the petition. This happened in St Helens town centre on the Saturday and Wigan’s Grand Arcade the day after.
Mrs McCourt said: “It was a big success. After a slow start in Wigan we had people queuing up to sign and get ribbons. One man called Phil has now offered to run the Wigan half-marathon to support the Helen’s law campaign which is wonderful.
Simms had been due another parole hearing in January but Mrs McCourt has not been notified of any date to which it may have been adjourned. The prison system can go through the process of re-introducing a prisoner into society through visits and hostels independent of parole board decisions but cannot release inmates altogether.