Mother 'horrified' as daughter's killer Ian Simms 'meets test for prison release' despite never locating body

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner

A mother is 'horrified' to discover her daughter's killer, who has refused to state the location of his victim for more than three decades, will be released from behind bars.

Ian Simms was jailed in 1989 for the murder of Helen McCourt, a 22-year-old insurance clerk from Lancashire who had disappeared while commuting a year before.

He always maintained his innocence, despite overwhelming DNA evidence, and a parole hearing has now concluded he will not reveal his victim's location even if he were kept behind bars to death.

Speaking at the family home in Billinge, Merseyside, Helen's mother, Marie, shaking with anger, said she received a call this morning from her victim liaison officer at Merseyside Probation Service.

Helen McCourt disappeared on her way home from work in 1988. Credit: PA

She said: "I'm just in a state of shock to be honest. I got a call this morning and was told he was being released.

"I've just had some forms come through, I think that's on what grounds the Parole Board has granted him release on licence, but I don't know all the conditions.

"I don't' know some people are telling me little bits and this is the wrong way to do it.

"I was just in shock. Well I'm still trying to deal with it. I'm horrified by it, I'm horrified by it. This man is a danger, you know."

Mrs McCourt, who has campaigned relentlessly to keep Simms behind bars until he helps lead police to her daughter's body, added: "I've been fighting for this all these years and the last four years it's been going through, Helen's Law.

"If Helen's Law had been on the statute books right now those judges would have to really make sure in their decision to release him that he would be safe.

"They would have to go into that, they would have to obey that law and it hasn't happened."

She added she did not know when or where Simms would be released and had "very little to go on".

Why is Simms being released?

Ian Simms always denied his innocence despite overwhelming DNA evidence. Credit: PA

In his seventh parole hearing, the now 63-year-old former pub landlord had his case considered at a parole hearing - with the hearing finding concluding there is "no prospect of Simms ever disclosing the whereabouts of his victim even if he were kept in prison until he died".

The Parole Board said he will now be released.

He had been denied release at his previous hearing in 2016 but was subsequently transferred to an open prison "due to progress made" where he has "followed the rules" when granted temporary release.

The board added the refusal continues to cause understandable distress and misery to the victim's family and the panel concluded this demonstrated a lack of empathy.

Marie McCourt is still processing the news. Credit: PA

But the board said denial was not a "necessarily determining factor" and also considered evidence from two psychologists who recommended release.

In a statement, the board said: "Taking into account the denial, the refusal to reveal where the victim's body is, all the risk factors, the progress that Mr Simms has made, the considerable change in his behaviour, the fact that he has not been involved in any violence or substance misuse for many years, his protective factors, the recommendations from all the professionals and all the evidence presented at the hearing, the panel was satisfied that Mr Simms met the test for release."

What is Helen's Law?

Helen's Law would prevent killers leaving prison before revealing the location of their victim's body. Credit: PA

In October 2016, MPs backed a proposed law that would deny killers parole if they refuse to reveal the location of their victims' bodies.

Labour's Conor McGinn brought forward "Helen's Law" last month, a motion that would change current legislation to deny killers who withhold information the chance of freedom.

It followed the campaign to change the law, which reached more than 343,000 signatures.

Murderers who refuse to disclose the location of a victim’s body may be denied parole after the bill passed on July 6 this year.

Parole Board guidance already stated offenders who withhold information may still pose a risk to the public and could therefore face longer in prison.

‘Helen’s law’ for the first time makes it a legal requirement to consider this withholding of information when making a decision on whether to release an offender.