Murder victim’s mother ‘devastated’ that killer may go to an open prison

mccourtA murder victim’s mother is “devastated” after discovering her killer could be moved to an open prison, despite never revealing where her body is buried.

Ian Simms abducted and murdered Helen McCourt in 1988 but has never admitted what he did or disclosed where the 22-year-old’s remains are.

Simms, formerly a pub landlord, was convicted by overwhelming DNA evidence of murdering Ms McCourt in Billinge, near Wigan.

His application for release from prison was turned down but the Parole Board is recommending he be transferred to an open prison – which a leading prisons expert described as ‘perfectly normal.’

Helen’s mother Marie said she is angry with the decision and fears she may never be able to give her daughter a proper burial if Simms is let out.

She is campaigning for the law to be changed, denying killers who withhold that information the chance of freedom.

“I am totally, totally devastated by the Parole Board’s decision,” she said.

“I may not be able to stop this man coming out of prison but I will do my damnedest to make sure that other killers of the same ilk will not come out.”

Mrs McCourt, 72, handed in a petition for “Helen’s Law”, signed by more than 320,000 people on Change.org, at Downing Street on Thursday.

She added: “If they say he can’t come out unless he admits it then maybe he will start thinking about telling us where Helen’s body is.

“If he is let out without telling us he could be dancing on her grave.”

However, Mark Leech, editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales, said there was no prospect of Simms being let out at this Parole hearing,

Mr Leech said: “Realistically he was never going to be let out at this perfectly normal parole hearing because all life sentence prisoners are required to go through a two-year period in an Open Prison before release, and that is the stage he will move to next.

“The decision as to whether and when to move him to an open jail now rests with Justice Secretary Michael Gove,” said Mr Leech, adding that “Gove would face legal challenges that would on the face of it be very difficult to for him win if he refused to follow the advice of the independent Parole Board.”

“As for ‘Helen’s Law'” said Mr Leech, “Disclosing the whereabouts of the victim’s remains could be a positive factor in favour of release, but only in those cases where guilt was admitted and that it doesn’t seem to apply here.”

“The law is clear that a refusal to accept guilt for a crime cannot be a bar to release on parole, it is therefore difficult to reconcile that fact with the proposed Helen’s Law which would seem to be completely at odds with the fact that some people convicted of murder may be innocent of the crime and therefore have no idea where the body actually is.

“The proposed ‘Helen’s Law’ may make headlines politically but it would be a change in the law based on emotion and grief and, as understandable as that may be, it is not the basis for criminal justice policy which may make already terrible miscarriages of justice even worse.”

Mrs McCourt was accompanied by the MP for St Helens North, Conor McGinn, who said she had delivered her case with “characteristic decency and dignity”.

Speaking outside No. 10 Downing Street, Mr McGinn said: “Marie made her case with characteristic decency and dignity. She is an extraordinary woman who despite enduring the most awful suffering is dedicated to helping others. The Victims Minister listened carefully and responded positively.”

Mr McGinn said that his priority was to ensure that the Secretary of State for Justice was informed of all the facts around the case before making the final decision about whether her murderer is to be transferred to an open prison.

He added: “I also welcome the fact that the Prisons Minister has responded to the overwhelming public support for our campaign to introduce Helen’s Law, and has asked the parole board to review the guidelines around convicted murderers who refuse to reveal the location of their victims’ remains.

“I want to see immediate progress on this and I will be keeping the pressure on the Government so that victims and their families get the justice they deserve.”

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