Mum’s plea to killer 25 years on

Helen McCourt
Helen McCourt

THERE is just a chance that the mother of Helen McCourt will come face to face with her daughter’s killer next month.

It would be the first encounter since they sat across a packed court room almost a quarter of a century ago when Ian Simms was sent down for murder.

The prospect does not fill Marie McCourt so much with dread, rather it is something she would want to do if it helps her on-going quest to get him to disclose where her beloved Helen’s remains are.

Former Billinge landlord Simms, now 56, is entitled to a parole hearing every two years now that he has served more than the 16-year minimum term recommended by the sentencing judge.

If previous hearings are anything to go by, he will elect not to attend. His mind remains stubbornly focused on denying his guilt rather than pleading for release, although every attempt at an appeal has so far failed.

Mrs McCourt today challenged him to “have the guts” to attend and also said she was prepared to meet him face to face in prison if he was finally willing to break his silence about the tragedy.

Simms is in a catch 22 position. So long as he maintains his innocence and refuses to say where Helen lies, remote remains his chance of ever being freed.

Mrs McCourt, however, will attend whether or not her nemesis is there because she says she wants the Parole Board to know in no uncertain terms just how much pain the unrepentant criminal is still putting her through after all these years.

As had been the case in the early years at the Court of Appeal in London, Marie had hoped to confront him during a parole session at Leyland’s Garth Prison in 2009. But again Simms was not present.

In 2011 a “paper hearing” was held. Little more than an exchange of legal documents, it took Simms’s case no further. This time another full hearing takes place.

Before then, however, a memorial mass will be said at Birchley St Mary’s RC Church in Billinge at 7.30pm on February 22.

All are welcome to attend. Afterwards close family and friends have been invited to an event at the adjoining club which will celebrate Helen’s life. A slideshow of photographs and music from the 1960s through to the 80s

will be among its features.

Insurance clerk Helen disappeared after arriving back in Billinge on the bus from a day’s work in Liverpool.

Strong forensic evidence later suggested that Simms battered and strangled the 22-year-old in his George and Dragon pub in Main Street, then subsequently disposed of her remains elsewhere.

Mrs McCourt says Simms’s children may be the key to his finally coming clean about the crime. She said: “They still believe he is innocent and I think he is holding out because of that. They need to look at the evidence away from the influence of their father. Then when they realise the truth, he has no reason to keep up the pretence.

“In the meanwhile I will continue my search for Helen and I will be at the latest parole hearing to make sure the board know how much I continue to be affected by what he did and his failure to tell what he did with my daughter.

“I don’t expect him to be at the parole hearing but I wish he would have the guts to face me and tell me why he did what he did. I would be prepared to meet him if he was willing finally to explain what he did with Helen. He was a big brave man when he killed an innocent young woman.

“He destroyed my daughter’s life and he destroyed my life but if he finally confessed it would show that he can do something useful with the rest of his.”

On the third anniversary of Helen’s death, Mrs McCourt wrote her one and only letter to Simms, explaining the hurt and asking him to give her closure.

But in the reply, which also contained the envelope to Marie’s letter with the convict’s name and prison address crossed out, he insulted and threatened her and her family.

On it he had written the chilling words: “Not for much longer, Mrs McCourt. Everything is about to come out. I have been quiet for much too long.”

Mrs McCourt forwarded the correspondence to the then Home Secretary Michael Howard asking that it be put in Simms’s prison file as evidence against his being released.

And for all the time that he has been locked away Mrs McCourt has continued her valiant search for Helen. There have been several disappointments after remains have been found in various parts of the North West only for them to be someone else’s.

Last year a witness came forward saying that he had seen suspicious activity on the night Helen disappeared on land near to where the DW Stadium now stands at Robin Park, but police say they will need more corroborating evidence before they commit to any excavations.

The date and location for the latest hearing have yet to be fixed, but Mrs McCourt says she will be there come what may.

She admitted last year that she has to face up to the possibility of never finding Helen during her own lifetime, as had just happened with the mother of Moors Murders victim Keith Bennett.

But she added: “I can never give up. There is always hope that someone might come forward with that crucial piece of information. And I need to be at the parole hearing to demonstrate the pain Simms is still inflicting on us after all these years.”