A murder victim's mum is to come face-to-face with her daughter's killer for the first time in almost 20 years. Under a change in the law, Marie McCourt will be allowed to attend the next parole hearing for Ian Simms.
And she says she wants to look him in the eye and make him admit his crime and tell her where her daughter's body lies.
Helen McCourt, the 22-year-old Billinge insurance clerk, was murdered by Simms after disappearing on her way home from work on February 9 1988.
Evidence suggested that he battered and strangled her in the George and Dragon pub in Main Street, where he was the landlord. But he subsequently disposed of Helen's remains which have never since been found.
The trial made history because Simms was found guilty of murder in the absence of a body. He has consistently denied murdering Helen and, ironically, his protestations of innocence have meant that he is likely to have already spent longer behind bars than he would have done if he had confessed.
Simms tried to appeal against the conviction in 1991 but leave was refused. He would have been up for parole after 13 years, but at that point the Criminal Cases Review Commission was examining supposed new evidence in a bid for a re-trial. But this too fell through.
His first attempt at getting parole came in January last year and it was denied. His refusal to admit guilt has meant that he is not seen to be engaging in the rehabilitation process, coming to terms with his crime or facing up to consequences.
This also counts against his chances of release.
Click next page for more ...Until September last year relatives of murder victims were not allowed to attend parole hearings and Mrs McCourt was among those pressing for a change so at least representatives of a family could be there.
Her wish granted, she is now set to confront Simms across a room at Full Sutton Prison, York, in January.
Not only will she be able to view the hearing, she will also give evidence, describing the impact the murder and not finding Helen's body has had on her and her family.
Marie said: "It is obviously going to be very, very difficult and I don't suppose it will be too comfortable for him either. But I want Ian Simms to feel my presence in that room.
"It's maybe naive of me, but maybe he will finally come to admit what he has done and say where Helen is. After all that is what he has to do if he wants to look forward to being released.
"I wrote to him in 1991 asking him for answers, to no avail. My emotions were rawer then. I am stronger now although it is still not going to be easy. I want to see how he looks after 20 years in prison."
A memorial bench, carved from a single block of marble granite, and bearing Helen's name is to be dedicated at St Mary's Church, Birchley, this weekend.
The simple inscription says: "Loved every minute, missed every day."
A short ceremony will take place at 1pm on Sunday – just two days before what would have been Helen's 43rd birthday.
All are welcome.