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Law on killers who hide bodies needed ‘as soon as possible’

Marie McCourt, mother of Helen McCourt, renewed her plea after Ben Lacomba was convicted of Sarah Wellgreen’s murder despite her body not being found.

Sarah Wellgreen’s body has not been found despite Ben Lacomba being convicted of her murder (Kent Police/PA)
Sarah Wellgreen’s body has not been found despite Ben Lacomba being convicted of her murder (Kent Police/PA)

By Flora Thompson, PA Home Affairs Correspondent

Laws denying killers parole for refusing to reveal where they hid their victim’s body must be passed “as soon as possible”, a campaigner has said.

The mother of murdered Helen McCourt, who has campaigned tirelessly for the legislation, renewed her plea in the wake of convictions for the murderers of two missing mothers.

Marie McCourt made the comments after learning Ben Lacomba was found guilty of killing his ex-lover Sarah Wellgreen. The mother-of-five’s body has never been found.

Just hours later another jury in a separate trial found sailor Andrew Griggs guilty of killing his pregnant wife Debbie. The mother-of-three was expecting their fourth child when she vanished 20 years ago.

Derek Cameron, Ms Griggs’ brother, said it had been 20 years of anguish, torment and heartache”, adding: “We would appeal to the defendant if he can see within his wisdom to perhaps telling us where Debbie’s body is so we can put the ultimate closure to this.”

Ms McCourt said ratification of the law “could not come soon enough” for her own ongoing campaign for answers and that it is “vital” to help other grieving families like that of Ms Wellgreen.

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Marie McCourt, left, with her daughter Helen, who was murdered by Ian Simms (Family handout/PA)

Speaking to the PA news agency, she said: “This case is exactly what the law is about.

“It will send a message out to these killers who think they can sit in prison and can come out one day without having to say where their victim’s remains are.

“These murders are planned, and he planned how he was going to get rid of her.

“They are the most notorious killers. It’s not something that happens by accident.

“It’s evil.”

Mrs McCourt has begged murderer Ian 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.

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

Mrs McCourt campaigned relentlessly to keep Simms behind bars until he helped lead police to her daughter’s body.

But she fears without the new law already in place he could be at risk of being released at a forthcoming Parole Board hearing on the case.

Mrs McCourt, from St Helens, Merseyside, said: “I hope and pray the Parole Board will listen to me and take into account in this case what the law is proposing and that they don’t release him.”

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Pub landlord Ian Simms at court in 1988 (PA)

The Prisoners (Disclosure Of Information About Victims) Bill, known as Helen’s Law in memory of Ms McCourt, was brought to Parliament last week after being mentioned in the Queen’s Speech and presented to the House of Commons.

MPs voted in favour of the law in 2016, but it had yet to receive Government backing, until the move was announced earlier this year.

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 would make 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.

It was one of the first pieces of legislation introduced in the new parliamentary session and also applies to paedophiles who take indecent images of children but refuse to disclose their identity.

It will only come into force if it is passed by Parliament and receives Royal Assent.

It is so far only in its early stages of being considered by MPs.

But its progress will depend on the looming general election – which would see Parliament dissolved while the country goes to the polls, leaving any Bills not yet passed being scrapped or having to start afresh if the next government still wants to bring them into force.

Mrs McCourt said she “couldn’t even put words to it” if a general election meant all her efforts were knocked back again.

She added: “I can’t believe that this could happen again. It’s the second time I’m here.

“Last time it was with Theresa May’s election. I had to fight all the way through again.

“This is why it is so important it goes through quickly this time.

“This law has to be done.

“Please, please write to your MPs and ask them to get this law into the statute book as soon as possible.

“It should be a high enough priority.

“It’s taken long enough to go through because of Brexit.”

A Parole Board spokesman confirmed a review hearing for Simms was due to take place in November.

PA

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