Family’s relief as Helen’s Law gains Royal Assent

By Flora Thompson, PA Home Affairs Correspondent
·3-min read

Laws which could deny parole to killers who refuse to reveal where they hid their victim’s body have gained Royal Assent after a family’s five-year campaign.

The Prisoners (Disclosure Of Information About Victims) Bill, dubbed Helen’s Law, is expected to come into force in the coming weeks.

It will also apply to paedophiles who refuse to identify those they abused.

The law is named after Helen McCourt whose murderer Ian Simms was released from prison earlier this year despite never revealing he hid her body.

Her family, who have campaigned for the legislation for years, said they were “relieved” at the news but – because their quest was fraught with constitutional delays – the decision came “just too late” to keep Simms behind bars longer.

Ms McCourt’s mother, Marie McCourt, 77, from St Helens, Merseyside, has begged murderer Simms to tell her the whereabouts of her daughter’s body ever since the insurance clerk vanished on her way home from work in 1988.

Helen McCourt murder
Helen McCourt’s mother Marie has been campaigning for a change in the law (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Earlier this year the family tried to overturn the Parole Board decision to release him but this was rejected by High Court judges.

Speaking to the PA news agency, Mrs McCourt’s husband John Sandwell said: “We are so relieved after five years – it has been a long old fight and very difficult times with the amount of obstacles we have had to go through.

“But we stuck with it and with the support of people like the press and the Commons and the Lords, we finally we have got there, we are delighted.

“We were hoping that the new law would have caught Simms before he walked but it came just too late.

“It causes a lot of frustration and heartache but we never gave up.

“At least it’s going to be able to help other families and it will be a legacy for Helen. It’s a law that will help an awful lot of families in the future.”

He said that until Simms reveals the whereabouts of Helen’s body, he still “has that control over our lives”, adding: “He has that string he can pull like a puppet almost.”

Helen McCourt murder
Simms pictured in 1988 (PA)

Simms, a pub landlord who was convicted by a jury on overwhelming DNA evidence of the 22-year-old’s abduction and murder, has always maintained his innocence.

MPs voted in favour of the law in 2016 but it did not receive Government backing until last year. It was then presented to Parliament after being mentioned in the Queen’s Speech.

But the Bill had to be scrapped amid the general election and the prorogation of Parliament, before being brought back for debate for a second time and eventually approved.

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

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

But the Bill makes it a legal requirement for the Parole Board to take into account a killer’s failure to disclose the location of their victim’s remains when considering them for release.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said: “Denying families a chance to lay their loved ones to rest is a cruelty beyond words, compounding their grief further.

“Helen’s Law makes it absolutely clear that murderers and evil sexual offenders who refuse to disclose information about their victims should expect to face longer behind bars.

“Thanks to the tireless efforts of Marie McCourt and other campaigners more families should get the answers and closure they deserve.”