Mum behind Helen’s Law says daughter’s legacy is working as she’s made MBE

A murder victim’s mother who campaigned to bring in Helen’s Law said her daughter’s legacy is working as she is made an MBE.

Marie McCourt, the mother of Helen McCourt who vanished near their home in St Helens, Merseyside, in 1988 aged 22, has been recognised in the New Year Honours list.

Ian Simms, a local pub landlord, was jailed for her murder despite her body never being found and was released in 2020 before his death earlier this year.

Mrs McCourt’s campaigning following her daughter’s death led to the Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Act, dubbed Helen’s Law, being enacted in 2021, making it harder for killers and paedophiles who hold back information on their victims to receive parole.

Speaking to the PA media agency about being made an MBE, the 79-year-old said: “I couldn’t believe it.

Helen McCourt murder
Helen McCourt went missing from near their family home in St Helens, Merseyside in 1988. (PA)

“All these years I’ve done – it’s nice to see people be given these awards… who have had to do things which have hurt them so much because of the reasons why they want to make sure our laws are right and correct.

“I can see Helen’s face now looking at me from (a photo on) the mantlepiece and she has her hair in rollers and a big smile on her face and the reason was she was getting ready to go for New Year’s Eve.

“I think with Helen, she would just be so delighted that other families may not have to go through what we’ve had to go through.”

Mrs McCourt said the legislation is “definitely working” as they’ve seen a number of cases of people being refused parole because of Helen’s Law.

“That is a start, but we have got other cases coming up and we’re waiting for them and we’re in touch with the families,” she said.

“It gives families a support knowing that Helen’s Law is there and now we’re getting the proper parole hearings.”

Speaking about the first ever public parole hearing that took place in December, Mrs McCourt said this is an “illustration of the kind of questioning that is going on” when it comes to criminals being released.

She added: “Families are devastated over losing a loved one through an act of murder but not to be able to know what they did to that victim, where their victim’s body was hidden – that is pure evil.”

Helen McCourt murder
Marie McCourt, mother of Helen McCourt, after she gave evidence at a Parole board hearing on the release of Ian Simms. (PA)

On what comes next, Mrs McCourt said: “I would just like to say I can rest more at night now knowing that that man is not living himself.

“But now with Helen’s law I can sit and think: ‘Well we’ve done something. Yes, he took my daughter’s life. Yes, he refused to say anything and put my family through agony.’

“We still go out searching for her – and obviously we can only do it when the weather’s decent because of the areas we have to go in.

“But to me, I feel I can help those families. It gives them hope that the parole board is going to do the right thing.”

Mrs McCourt said she has also been campaigning for Helen’s Law 2, which aims for the desecration of a body to be recognised as a separate offence.

But this has been “a heck of a lot more difficult” since it entails changing current laws rather than bringing in a new one, she said.

Under Helen’s Law, killers can still be released if no longer deemed a risk to the public even if they refuse to disclose information.

But the Parole Board is legally required to consider whether they have co-operated with inquiries as part of their assessment.

Simms was handed a life sentence in 1989 after being convicted by a jury on overwhelming DNA evidence of Ms McCourt’s abduction and murder.

He always maintained his innocence, despite never saying where he hid her body.