A grieving local mum’s bid to keep killers behind bars indefinitely if they fail to reveal the whereabouts of their victims’ bodies takes another important step on Friday.
For the House of Commons will host the second reading in Parliament of a bill which supporters hope will become “Helen’s Law.”
It is named after Billinge murder victim Helen McCourt who was killed by pub landlord Ian Simms in 1988 but whose body has never been found.
The 22-year-old insurance clerk’s mother Marie, who has spent the intervening decades in a heartbreaking and so far fruitless search for her daughter’s remains, wants the law changed so that convicted murderers can never be released from prison unless they first reveal where they disposed of their victims’ bodies.
She is backed by St Helens North MP Conor McGinn and a petition of 350,000 names calling for the introduction of the law through what would officially be referred to as the Unlawful Killing (Recovery of Remains) Act.
Mr McGinn introduced the bill to Parliament last October and it received unanimous backing from the MPs present. But it is not guaranteed a smooth passage through the system.
It has been pointed out by the Ministry of Justice that judges already have the power to take non-disclosure of victims’ bodies into account when at the sentencing stage.
And arguments have also been voiced in the past that such a law would have the potential to treat victims of a miscarriage of justice more harshly than the guilty. Someone who was wrongfully convicted of murder would not be able to reveal the body’s location and so would never be released while the guilty, perhaps whose victims’ bodies had been found by chance, would eventually be let out.
Simms remains in prison, long after the 16-year minimum sentence that was imposed on him expired.
He maintains his innocence to this day and was last year moved to an open prison, making his release more likely and possibly next year.
Helen vanished on her way home from work on the evening of February 9 1988. She had disembarked from a bus in Billinge town centre but never completed the short walk to the family home in Standish Avenue.
A major police operation was launched within hours and thousands would eventually be involved in the search for Helen.
The investigation soon began to focus on the George and Dragon pub in Main Street which was en route to Helen’s home and where she had been a barmaid and regular.
And while the young woman’s body has never been located, a large amount of forensic evidence began to accumulate against landlord Simms including blood and fingerprints in his flat over the pub, part of an earring matching Helen’s was found in the boot of his car and then clothing and other effects belonging to both parties were discovered at two different locations miles from Billinge.
A jury unanimously convicted Simms of murder. He subsequently exhausted the appeals and Criminal Cases Review Board routes to get his conviction overturned to no effect.
And Marie has never given up her quest to find her daughter’s final resting place.