The Parole Board has been ordered to reconsider the case of a convicted killer who had been approved for release, despite never showing any remorse and refusing to reveal the whereabouts of his victim’s body.
Ian Simms, 63, was jailed in 1988 for the abduction and murder of Helen McCourt, who disappeared on her way home from work in the St Helens area of Merseyside.
He has steadfastly refused to accept responsibility for his appalling crime and Helen’s mother, Marie McCourt, lobbied MPs to keep him behind bars until he told her where her daughter’s remains were hidden.
New legislation - known as Helen’s Law - that would have prevented Simms' release was due to be passed in the Autumn, but parliament ran out of time when the election was called.
In November the Parole Board approved Simm's application for release, but now following a string of blunders, Robert Buckland, the justice secretary has asked the board to reconsider his case. It is understood he plans to meet Ms McCourt to discuss the case within weeks.
The move means Simms will remain in prison while a review is carried out and will also allow Mrs McCourt more time to submit a formal appeal against the ruling.
Mr Buckland’s decision to ask for a review came after campaigners and supporters of the McCourt family pointed out that Simms had not made any effort to reform during his lengthy sentence.
As well as not accepting his own guilt, the former pub landlord has never taken part in any rehabilitation programmes and has also been involved in violence in prison.
At the weekend the Telegraph revealed how he had even written to Mrs McCourt from prison making a series of veiled threats against her family.
In the letter, which was sent some years ago, Simms wrote: "...the Lord says an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, call your family off now before it's too late..."
He also wrote: "tell Michael [Helen's brother] I'll see him when and where he likes...I cannot ever forgive you and yours".
Mrs McCourt said even after more than 30-years she believed Simms remained a danger to the public.
The parole board said there was no set time within which it would come to a decision but it would “pause” Simms release. The right to request a reconsideration was only introduced in July this year following the controversy over the proposed release of the black tax rapist John Worboys.
Reconsideration can be requested on two grounds. One is that it was procedurally unfair meaning the correct process was not followed in the review of the offender for parole, for example, important evidence was not shared.
The second is that it was Irrational in that the decision “makes no sense based on the evidence of risk that was considered and that no other rational panel could come to the same conclusion.”
In the board’s judgement summary announcing the proposed release, it said it accepted Simms’ refusal to reveal the location of Helen’s body not only showed a lack of empathy but also continued to cause “distress and misery” to her family.
But it decided the “considerable change” in his behaviour since the killing 31 years ago and the fact that he had not been involved in any violence or drug misuse for many years meant he “met the test for release.”
The board said Simms would be released subject to conditions including living at a designated address, being "of good behaviour" and reporting for supervision appointments.