CHARLES GRAHAM - Quest for the truth

IT seems hard to believe that a quarter of a century has elapsed since that terrible day when Billinge insurance clerk Helen McCourt disappeared.

During the intervening years we have seen history made with the jailing of her killer despite the absence of a body; failed appeals by murderer Ian Simms to have the conviction thrown out; his quest for innocence taken up and then mysteriously dropped by a famous investigative journalist; and an agonising series of dead ends in the on-going search for the young victim’s remains.

And at the centre of it all has been Helen’s mum. A woman as determined now as she was 25 years ago to find justice and closure.

Every tiny detail of the case and subsequent developments are clearly as fresh in Marie McCourt’s memory as they were when first revealed. She has not been able, or willing in fact, to let the passing of time dull the pain and cloud memory because she has not been allowed to rest.

Many a column inch in this paper and our sister publications have been written over the years as we do our bit to keep posing the unanswered question about Helen.

We make no apology for re-covering old ground. Keeping so critical an unresolved issue in the public eye is far more important than a blinkered quest for journalistic originality.

There is also always the chance that this time it might prick the right conscience or jog the right memory.

Loyalties change, threats of repercussions go away for whatever reason, or guilty secrets simply become too much to suppress anymore.

Mrs McCourt herself has expressed the willingness to meet Simms face to face if he is willing finally to come clean.

It seems strange that he still mantains his innocence when he is so clearly guilty. From a clinical proof point of view, the lack of a body wasn’t going to be his saving grace. One wonders what he has to gain other than to keep kidding his relatives that he was the patsy in the most fantastical crime stitch-up of all time.

It is Simms’s denial which is now keeping him behind bars.

In one conversation he could ease the suffering of Marie, wrap up a case that is still vexing Merseyside police and hasten his own liberation.

For him finally to shed his delusions, swallow his pride and clear his conscience at his forthcoming parole hearing would be the best “gift” that anyone could give Marie McCourt on this tragic anniversary.

So too anyone else who has thus far been holding back that critical map reference.