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Parole Board decides murderer Ian Simms should be released from prison

Simms has never revealed the location of Helen McCourt’s body.

Marie McCourt, mother of Helen McCourt, after she gave evidence at a Parole Board hearing (Gareth Fuller/PA)
Marie McCourt, mother of Helen McCourt, after she gave evidence at a Parole Board hearing (Gareth Fuller/PA)

By Flora Thompson, PA Home Affairs Correspondent

Helen McCourt’s murderer is set to be released from prison despite never revealing where he hid her body.

The Parole Board confirmed it is standing by its original decision to free Ian Simms after refusing the Justice Secretary’s request to keep him behind bars.

Helen’s mother Marie McCourt called on Robert Buckland to step in after the board decided Simms had met the test for release three decades after the 22-year-old went missing.

Whilst the Parole Board has every sympathy with Helen McCourt’s family, if the board is satisfied that imprisonment is no longer necessary for the protection of the public, they are legally obliged to direct release Parole Board spokesman

A Parole Board spokesman said: “The Parole Board has decided that the original decision to release Ian Simms should stand, after considering a reconsideration application from the Secretary of State.

“Whilst the Parole Board has every sympathy with Helen McCourt’s family, if the board is satisfied that imprisonment is no longer necessary for the protection of the public, they are legally obliged to direct release.”

In a statement, Mrs McCourt said: “I am very disappointed with the Parole Board’s announcement and do not accept what they are saying – that Simms is safe to be released.

“I am consulting my legal team to discuss my next steps.”

Mr Buckland said: “The reconsideration of this case by a Parole Board judge is a process independent from Government but we are obviously disappointed with the outcome.

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Ian Simms (PA)

“I understand this will be extremely upsetting for the family of Helen McCourt and my heartfelt sympathies remain with them.

“Marie McCourt has told me and my predecessors repeatedly of the additional anguish experienced by her and others in similar situations.

“I hope Helen’s Law, which is now before Parliament, will serve as a lasting legacy to Helen and to the bravery of Marie and her family.”

Mr Buckland’s request for a reconsideration was made on grounds including that the original decision was “irrational” and “erroneous”, according to documents on the application.

In his findings, Parole Board chairman Sir David Calvert-Smith, a former director of public prosecutions and retired judge who reviewed the request, said it was “impossible” to characterise the decision as “irrational” and therefore the application was refused.

Simms will not be released imminently and it could take weeks to arrange but may be dependent on whether campaigners launch legal action against the ruling, the PA news agency understands.

The original decision came after Mrs McCourt’s campaign to keep killers behind bars until they lead police to the victim’s body, dubbed Helen’s Law, failed to be ratified before Parliament on numerous occasions – twice being delayed because of general elections.

The Prisoners (Disclosure of Information about Victims) Bill was brought back to Parliament on Wednesday but a date has not yet been set for it to be properly debated by MPs.

Pub landlord Simms, who was convicted by a jury on overwhelming DNA evidence of Ms McCourt’s abduction and murder, is serving his life sentence at HMP Garth in Leyland, Lancashire.

He has always maintained his innocence over the death of Ms McCourt, an insurance clerk who vanished on her way home from work in Liverpool in 1988.

Simms was convicted of her murder the following year, having been told he would serve at least 16 years and one day behind bars.

He was eligible to be considered for release in February 2004.

Mrs McCourt previously said she was “in shock” at the decision to consider Simms’ release.

The summary of the Parole Board’s original ruling said Simms was deemed suitable for release due to factors including the “considerable change in his behaviour”.

The decision to release him was subject to a number of conditions including residing at a designated address, having to wear a tagging device to monitor his whereabouts, observe a curfew and avoid any contact with the family of his victim.

PA

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