Murder victim's mum's new push to keep killer in jail

A campaigning mum will mark her murdered daughter's birthday with a new push to keep her killer in jail.
Helen McCourtHelen McCourt
Helen McCourt

This Sunday would have seen Helen McCourt turn 52. It will be the 30th year that mother Marie has observed what should be a celebratory date without her loved one’s being there.

The Billinge insurance clerk was murdered by pub landlord Ian Simms in 1988 but her body has never been found.

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Despite always protesting his innocence, Simms was unanimously convicted of the 22-year-old’s murder and has remained behind bars far longer than most killers on account of his unrepentance and the lack of closure for his victim’s family.

Marie McCourt - spearheading the yellow ribbon campaignMarie McCourt - spearheading the yellow ribbon campaign
Marie McCourt - spearheading the yellow ribbon campaign

But in recent years Mrs McCourt has been striving to prevent his possible release based on the premise that if he doesn’t admit his guilt - and the whereabouts of Helen’s remains - he does not deserve to have his liberty restored.

In recent weeks Simms has enjoyed several escorted and unescorted out-of-prison visits after the parole board moved him to a lower category of jail.

The next phase is for him to spend a weekend in a hostel.

But ministers have ordered that anyone in a “no body, no parole” situation like Simms should now not be released completely until “Helen’s law” is passed or rejected by Parliament.

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Pre-Brexit concerns remain, however, that the European Court of Human Rights could yet find favour with the likes of Simms and let him go.

Which is why Mrs McCourt is continuing her Helen’s law crusade and wants the 456,000-name petition she has been promoting to reach 500,000 so that it has even greater impact.

As part of this push she and supporters will be giving out yellow ribbons and rosettes for people to put on show in support of the drive.

The idea was suggested by Billinge and Seneley Green councillor Sue Murphy and so Marie, family and friends will have a stand in St Helens’s main square from noon to 3pm on Saturday and Wigan’s Grand Arcade from 11am to 2pm on Sunday, which is Helen’s birthday.

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They will distribute ribbons for people to display and encourage them to sign the petition.

Mrs McCourt said: “There is a great will in government for the ‘no body, no parole’ clause but there are no certainties yet with the European Court of Human Rights still having influence.

“We want Helen’s law enshrined as soon as possible and I am hoping that people will support it by tying yellow ribbons around trees, on prams, bike handlebars and anywhere else they can be seen.

“It would also be great to get the petition numbers up to half a million as we mark 30 birthdays without Helen. People visiting the stalls can fill in a form or go online with their phones to sign it.”

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Simms had been due another parole hearing in January but Mrs McCourt has not been notified of any date to which it may have been adjourned. The prison system can go through the process of re-introducing a prisoner into society through visits and hostels independent of parole board decisions but cannot release inmates altogether.