Helen McCourt killer Ian Simms given order preventing him from visiting spots where he may have hidden her body

Notorious killer Ian Simms faces a 1,800 square-mile exclusion zone preventing him from getting anywhere near his victim’s family - or the sites where he might have hidden her body.

Thursday, 13th February 2020, 8:40 am
Updated Thursday, 13th February 2020, 2:42 pm

The 63-year-old Billinge pub landlord was earlier this month released from a 32-year prison stretch for the murder of Helen McCourt.

This was despite widespread opposition because he never revealed what he did with the young insurance clerk’s remains.

Her family still hope that a judicial review could send him back to jail if judges overturn a recent Parole Board decision to let him go in the face of a lack of contrition or reform. But in the meantime, ground rules have been laid down to Simms about the terms of his licence.

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Simms on day release from prison

This includes staying in an approved hostel; being on a curfew and reporting in twice a day; and being subjected to a GPS tracker.

There is also a huge zone - from Trafford across to Liverpool, up to the Ribble estuary across to the M61 and back to Trafford - into which he must not enter.

To do so or to breach any other terms of the licence would see him sent back to prison anyway.

Helen's family may know before the end of the month whether her unrepentant killer will be recalled to jail or remain forever free.

Marie McCourt with a picture of Helen

A judge is currently considering a bundle of evidence, arguing that the Parole Board should not have released Ian Simms earlier this month, which his victim’s relatives hope will be passed on to three High Court judges for a review.

They then hope that panel will see that the 63-year-old is not deserving of liberty because he has not owned up to his crime, is not rehabilitated and thus could still be a danger and, most importantly, he has not revealed what he did with his victim’s body back in February 1988.

There are many uncertainties about the case - even as to whether Simms’s going back behind bars is a possibility.

But today it was revealed that a massive exclusion zone has been thrown up covering half of the North West into which Simms must not enter under threat of breaching his licence and going back to prison anyway.

Marie McCourt, the campaigning mother of 22-year-old Helen, said that the area stretches from the Trafford Centre, along the Manchester Ship Canal to Merseyside, up through Liverpool and Southport to the river Ribble and Preston and down the M61 and M60 back to the Trafford Centre.

The zone’s coverage was agreed because it not only keeps Simms well at bay from the McCourts but also prevents him from returning to any of the sites where evidence of the murder (such as Rixton and Hollins Green) were found as well as other areas of interest to the police at the time (such as Southport) because Helen’s remains are likely to be within it.

Marie was back in Billinge today after visiting London with husband John to see what has become known as Helen’s Law embark on its third attempted passage through Parliament. Its first two were thwarted by general election calls and meant the “no body, no parole” clause for murderers could not be made law before Simms, the inspiration for it, was released.

She said she was buoyed by so many MPs of different political colours, including Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, endorse it and express sorrow that it hadn’t become statute in time to prevent Simms’s being freed. Many were scathing about the Parole Board, saying it wasn’t putting victims first and Mr Buckland praised Marie’s “bravery, her determination and her tenacity.”

Meanwhile the search for Helen goes on. Only this week someone came forward to the Wigan Post to suggest that a place of interest might be houses on what is now Greenfield View in Billinge.

These were just foundations at the time of Helen’s disappearance and the caller said they had heard Simms had a friend on the site who could have given him access and that there was a lot of clay in the soil - a substance which was offered in evidence against the suspect.

Marie said: “I am very grateful that people are still coming forward after all this time. Only recently an elderly couple approached with a similar suggestion about a building under construction at Fairfield Hospital, but it was 17 miles from where Simms and Helen’s clothes and possessions were found and crucially there were no cement particles.”