Mum calls for law change as killer’s freedom bid halts

Marie McCourt
Marie McCourt

WIGAN killer Ian Simms’s latest bid for freedom has stalled again.

Days after giving evidence to a panel at Wymott Prison, Leyland, Marie McCourt has discovered that the hearing for the man who murdered her daughter Helen 27 years ago was then adjourned.

It’s the third such delay in two years, although it is believed that this time the 58-year-old former pub landlord did actually appear. Proceedings will resume on July 23 at the earliest.

Simms has already served 11 years longer than the minimum term imposed by a Liverpool Crown Court judge. Originally he may have been denied release because he continues to deny the crime and so won’t reveal the whereabouts of the 22-year-old Billinge insurance clerk’s body.

Latterly, since the law was changed so that failure to rehabilitate is no longer a reason for keeping killers behind bars, Mrs McCourt has to assume that he remains locked up because of a poor disciplinary record.

However her fears have been growing that he may be getting closer to liberty because for the first time this time the parole hearing was held at a lower category of prison than before.

Mrs McCourt has never given up her agonising search for Helen’s body and she and husband John Sandwell were, in fact, given permission to scour a farmer’s field in Woolston along with a water diviner after a man who says he has been trying to get police to excavate the land for years (without apparent success) came to see the couple.

He told Mrs McCourt that at around the time Helen disappeared, he was working on the land in question and noticed that a remote part of it had been disturbed, as if for a burial.

Of course it may have simply been some other kind of excavation or even the burying of a pet, but the small party which braved the rains found it difficult going on the land because it has become quite overgrown in the intervening years. Sadly, this latest of countless searches drew a blank.

Another disappointment, however, has only steeled Mrs McCourt to call for the relatives of future victims to be less prone to similar heartaches.

She said: “It is too late for me but I want to see a change in the law. In future a judge should be able to say to a murderer who is found irrefutably guilty, for example through damning DNA evidence, but refuses to disclose his victim’s whereabouts: ‘I am imposing a sentence of life to mean life unless you reveal the body’s location.

“That might spare other people the endless searching that I and my family have had to endure.

“In the meanwhile we now wait again for Simms’s parole hearing. The previous two times a whole fortnight elapsed after I had testified on my own before the Ministry of Justice told me that Simms never appeared and the whole thing was postponed indefinitely.

“At least this time I only had to wait a week before my Victim Liaison Officer told me that it was adjourned after being part-heard.

“No-one keeps me properly in the loop so I can only assume it was adjourned because the panel needed more information.”