We speak to Liverpool mum, Marie McCourt as her campaign, Helen’s Law changes the Government’s rules on parole.
“Helen’s Law won’t bring her home but it may help others and, at last, I feel like I have done something, that I haven’t wasted all my time.”
As the Government changes the rules on parole for murderers who fail to reveal the whereabouts of victims bodies, we speak to Merseyside mum, Marie McCourt about her 30 year long campaign, Helen’s Law.
“If a child has stolen something, they should be made to give it back and say sorry, or they will never learn,” says Marie.
“In the same way, a killer should own up. They should show remorse and give back the body of someone they have taken…they should be made to face up to what they’ve done. I’m no academic, I’m not a clever person. It just seems like common sense.”
Marie’s daughter Helen, a 22-year-old insurance clerk disappeared as she returned home from work in Liverpool on February 9, 1988.
Ian Simms, the landlord of a pub just yards from her home in Billinge, was convicted of her murder and sentenced to life in prison – but he has never revealed where he left Helen’s body. Although they fall short of her desire for ‘no body, no parole’ legislation, Marie has welcomed new Government rules which will make it harder for murderers who fail to reveal the whereabouts of their victims’ bodies to be released.
The changes, dubbed Helen’s Law after a long campaign by Marie to stop the release of her daughter’s killer, Ian Simms, will, she says make a huge difference.
Marie explained:“Up until now parole boards have only had to follow guidelines. Now they will be bound by law to consider the terrible toll crimes like these take on their families when deciding whether to let killers out of jail.
“Helen’s Law will force parole boards to take an offender’s refusal to disclose the location of bodies into account when they apply for parole.
“It means killers who don’t co-operate could spend longer in jail once they have served their minimum tariff, and it might mean parents like me won’t have to suffer like we do – like I have.
“It’s not what I’d hoped – but it’s something. It’s more than we had, more than I’d expected, and that’s amazing.”
Marie, chairperson of SAMM (Support After Murder and Manslaughter) Merseyside, has given up hope that Simms, who has enjoyed day release and is being readied for freedom, will ever tell her where her only daughter is. But she will never give up hope that she will one day be found.
“I could have had more than 30 years of peace, sadness yes, but peace, had Simms revealed where Helen is. But I’ve had 30 years of fighting.
“All I wanted was for him to give Helen back to me, to be able to bury her body in a churchyard; to know she was safe in holy ground and not in an awful place where there could be rats – a horrific thought for me – and where he, should he be released, can dance on her grave.
“I have never been able to give her a last farewell, because he has denied me that. But I can’t give up hope.
“Part of me thinks I will be like Winnie Johnson, whose son Keith Bennett was killed by Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, who spent a lifetime looking for his body but went to the grave never having found it; and that breaks my heart. When Winnie Johnson died I broke down, I couldn’t take it because I know how important it is to me, and it was to her.
“All I could think was that she was now with her son, Keith, and that her torment was over. That could happen to me and of course it’s upsetting. I’m 75 and so much of my life has already gone, I could go to my grave not knowing. But I can only hope and pray that I don’t, and that Helen can be found.”
Marie, who has a deep faith which has given her the courage to cope, doesn’t think Ian Simms will ever tell her, but she believes it may happen, that someone may find something, or that someone may remember something that takes her to her. Until then, she finds comfort in Helen’s law.
Not just because it means killers whose victims aren’t found could spend longer in jail unless they reveal where they are. But because something positive will have come out of something so awful.
“Helen’s name will be on the statute books which means she will never be forgotten and, because of her, innocent families may be spared the torture of not being able to say goodbye to their loved ones. I hope Helen’s Law can be passed in time to help keep her killer in jail.
“The tide is finally turning towards victims and their families rather than the rights of cold and callous criminals. That alone has taken a weight off my shoulders. Helen’s Law won’t bring her home but it may help others and, at last, I feel like I have done something, that I haven’t wasted all my time. I would never have thought I could do it – but I did it.
“I did it for Helen and justice for other families.”