Betrayal of Helen’s Law: Killers who won’t say where victim’s body is hidden could STILL get parole


Betrayal of Helen’s Law: Killers who won’t say where victim’s body is hidden could STILL get parole despite promise of rule change after Helen McCourt case

  • Killers who refuse to say where victim’s remains are could still be freed from jail 
  • Parole Board cannot block  release if they are deemed no longer risk to public 
  • Helen’s Law is named after 22-year-old insurance clerk Helen McCourt 

Killers who refuse to reveal where they have hidden their victim’s remains could still be freed from jail despite a new law introduced in a bid to deny them parole.

Martin Jones, chief executive of the Parole Board, issued the warning ahead of Helen’s Law coming into force early next year. 

He said that although prisoners will be questioned, and failure to co-operate may go against them, the Parole Board cannot block their release if they are deemed no longer a risk to the public.

Helen’s Law, named after 22-year-old insurance clerk Helen McCourt – who vanished on her way home from work in Billinge, Merseyside, in 1988 – is the culmination of five years of campaigning by her mother, Marie.

Helen McCourt, 22, vanished on her way home from work in Billinge, Merseyside, in 1988

Last night Mrs McCourt, 77, spoke of her disappointment that the new law will not do more to ensure that such killers stay behind bars.

The law, officially called the Prisoners (Disclosure Of Information About Victims) Act, finally gained royal assent last month, but came too late to stop the release of Helen’s murderer, Ian Simms, 64.

The former pub landlord, who was freed in February, has always refused to admit his guilt or disclose what he has done with Helen’s remains.

Simms served nearly 32 years in jail – double his 16-year recommended minimum term – after being convicted of her murder on DNA evidence.

Referring to the new legislation, Mr Jones said: ‘It’s described as ‘no body, no parole’ – (but) that’s not what this legislation does, at all.

‘It requires the Parole Board to take it into account before we make a decision but it’s very clear that ultimately the Parole Board has to apply the public protection test in relation to whether that person remains a risk to the public.’

When asked whether the law, if already in force, would have altered the decision to release Simms, Mr Jones said: ‘My own view is, even if this legislation had been in place, it would not have changed the Parole Board decision that we made.’

Helen's Law, officially called the Prisoners (Disclosure Of Information About Victims) Act, is the culmination of five years of campaigning by Helen's mother Marie

Helen’s Law, officially called the Prisoners (Disclosure Of Information About Victims) Act, is the culmination of five years of campaigning by Helen’s mother Marie

The law finally gained royal assent last month, but came too late to stop the release of Helen's murderer, Ian Simms, 64

The law finally gained royal assent last month, but came too late to stop the release of Helen’s murderer, Ian Simms, 64

Mrs McCourt said: ‘I wish the law could have gone further. It’s upsetting to hear the law may not have helped our case. Simms has a violent history.

‘How can they say a man like that – who also won’t reveal information – is safe to be released? But they have to make sure Helen’s Law makes it harder and makes it far more difficult than it has been.’ 

Mr Jones’s comments cast doubt on how effective the new rules will be in changing the system. Parole Board guidance already says offenders who withhold information may still pose a risk to the public and could therefore face longer in jail.

Courts can also hand down tougher sentences for murderers who deliberately conceal the location of a body.

The new law sets out to toughen existing guidelines, making it a legal requirement for the board to take into account a killer’s failure to disclose the location of their victim’s remains when considering them for release.

But Mr Jones said: ‘It will not assist your case and is likely to detract from your case if you don’t do the right thing, but it can’t be a bar from release. Ultimately if someone is no longer a risk, we must release them.’

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