Release of Helen McCourt's killer Ian Simms set to be reconsidered

Helen McCourt
Helen McCourt

The mother of murdered Helen McCourt was given fresh hope today that her killer may yet be kept behind bars.

Only weeks after the Parole Board ruled that former Billinge pub landlord Ian Simms is fit to be released from prison for the notorious 1988 crime, the justice secretary Robert Buckland has intervened to ask them to reconsider.

Marie McCourt

Marie McCourt

Marie McCourt had thought the November ruling had wrecked her "last best chance" of getting unrepentant Simms to reveal what he did with her still-missing daughter's remains.

Her then MP Conor McGinn said he would ask Mr Buckland to step in while a crowdfunding scheme was launched to help Mrs McCourt pay for a judicial review into the Simms release.

Helen, a 22-year-old insurance clerk, vanished on her way home from work on the evening of February 9 1988 and while her body has never been found, Simms was unanimously convicted on a swathe of forensic evidence by a Liverpool Crown Court jury.

He has protested his innocence ever since which is why he has remained in prison for so much longer than the 16 year minimum stipulated by the trial judge. But of late he had been taking steps to re-integrate into society and been allowed out on day release.

Ian Simms

Ian Simms

It was expected that he would be a free man - but sticking to strict licence conditions - before Christmas.

The BBC's Danny Shaw reported that a judicial member of the Board - who has not been involved in the case before - will conduct the review. The process - which includes consulting Simms - is expected to take around three weeks.

He will not be released during that time.

Mrs McCourt said: "I am very, very relieved over it. It suggests there still a chance of keeping Simms where he belongs until or unless he reveals what he did with Helen."

She said she had last month been “horrified” by the board’s decision that Simms has “met the test for release."

The November ruling had read: “Taking into account the denial, the refusal to reveal where the victim’s body is, all the risk factors, the progress that Mr Simms has made, the considerable change in his behaviour, the fact that he has not been involved in any violence or substance misuse for many years, his protective factors, the recommendations from all the professionals and all the evidence presented at the hearing, the panel was satisfied that Mr Simms met the test for release.”

Mrs McCourt had come so agonisingly close to introducing a "no body, no parole" clause, nicknamed Helen’s Law, which would have prevented Simms’s release in any case, but the general election stalled it long enough for the parole board to come to its verdict.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "After carefully considering the details of this case, we believe there is an arguable case to meet the threshold for reconsideration.

"An application has now been made to the independent Parole Board to have the case reconsidered.

"It is now for the Parole Board to decide whether the threshold is met for the decision to be formally reconsidered."