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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Pub landlord - The body has never been found
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: February 9, 1988
Date of birth: 1956
Victim profile: Helen McCourt, 22
Method of murder: ???
Location: Billinge, Merseyside, England, United Kingdom
Status: Sentenced to life in prison on March 14, 1989
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Helen McCourt - mum's anguish 20 years on

Liam Murphy -

February 8, 2008

IT WAS a stormy day with weather forecasters advising people not to make unnecessary journeys on February 9, 1988, when Helen McCourt vanished.

Marie McCourt had planned to meet her daughter for lunch after taking her grandmother for a hospital appointment.

But being a nervous driver, after hearing the weather report she cancelled the lunch meeting – a decision which she says led to her blaming herself for what happened to her daughter.

Pub landlord Ian Simms, from Billinge, the village where Helen lived, was later convicted for her murder, although Helen’s body has never been found.

The last Marie McCourt heard from her daughter was a call that afternoon in which she asked that her tea be ready early because she was going out with her boyfriend on a date that evening.

She told her mother she would be home about 5.15 to 5.30pm, but she never arrived.

At first Marie McCourt was not too concerned. The weather reports remained bad, and when she heard on the radio a tree had been blown on the railway line, it seemed likely Helen had just been caught up in the delays affecting the local transport network.

But as the evening wore on Marie McCourt checked with the railways and found Helen’s train was not affected.

Eventually, after fruitless calls to hospitals and Helen’s workplace, the Royal Insurance in Liverpool, she and partner John Sandwell travelled into the city in an attempt to trace her daughter.

They eventually ended up reporting her missing that night at a city centre police station, but a sceptical officer was convinced the 22-year-old had “just gone for a few drinks with friends” and would turn up.

Marie said: “I told him Helen wasn’t like that, that she would phone. Then I broke down, crying.”

She said he promised them he would alert other officers coming on duty and agreed she could call him every hour if she wanted, but advised to go home and await Helen’s return.

What followed was a major investigation, with Billinge high street packed with volunteers offering to help in a search of the area for the missing young woman.

Simms, who was convicted of her murder, has always denied involvement in Helen McCourt’s death, leaving Marie McCourt without her daughter’s body to bury.

It is this which still scars her.

She said: “I still believe her body will be found. Whether he [Simms] tells us, or it comes from a member of the public.”

The search for Helen continues, and several years ago Marie McCourt even employed a psychic detective, but the effort proved fruitless.

Simms has come up for parole but so far it has been refused, and the Criminal Cases Review Commission also told him his case would not be referred back to the Court of Appeal.

The death caused a delay in Marie’s marriage to long -time partner John Sandwell, who she had planned to wed in April 1988.

But Helen’s disappearance put that off and the couple married five years later.

And together they have forged forward with Survivors of Murder and Manslaughter (Samm) Merseyside, operating a hotline for others who have lost a relative to murder.

Marie said this work has helped her deal with her own grief, but anniversaries, Christmas, and birthdays are still hard and the couple always go away in January ahead of the anniversary of Helen’s disappearance.

Marie said: “That chilling out is to get me prepared for the February, and to deal with it all.”

And because of her involvement with Samm when she returns it is often to a mountain of work in which to immerse herself.

But tomorrow (Sat Feb 9), on the anniversary of her daughter’s disappearance, Marie McCourt is left with only memories to hold on to.

The day of Helen’s disappearance is “still like yesterday” for her.

She said that tomorrow, she will be “thinking of the daughter that should still be with us”. he said: “Possibly with her own family – she would have made a great mum.”

Asked what she thought her daughter would be like, Marie said: “I’d have to go back and look at pictures of me when I was 42 – because she would be 42 now.

“She’d be a mum, could even be a grandmother

“I feel sad – can’t say angry because no one is entitled to have their children all the time – I feel sad that she is not here with her family who all miss her so much.

“But I just wish I had somewhere to go, somewhere permanent where she could be remembered.”

Her aim is to make sure her daughter is not forgotten, and through her work with others, as well as the continuing search for Helen’s body, she is managing to keep the memory of her daughter in people’s minds.

Fighting back the tears she reiterated the same wish she has expressed over the last two decades, saying “I just wish I could take some flowers to her grave”.


I keep praying that my Helen will be found

by Michelle Fiddler, Liverpool Echo

February 8, 2008

THE mother of a Merseyside woman who was murdered by a pub landlord says she will never give up hope of finding her daughter’s body.

Speaking on the 20th anniversary of her disappearance, Marie McCourt, says she prays that one day she will be able to bury her daughter, Helen.

The 22-year-old disappeared on February 9, 1988, as she returned home from work.

Pub landlord Ian Simms was convicted of her murder, but has never revealed where her body lies.

Speaking from her Billinge home, grandmother-of-four, Mrs McCourt, 65, said: “I will never give up hope. If I gave up I would rapidly go down hill. You’re a strong person when you have got hope.

“I believe as time goes by that there will come a point when someone is going to find Helen.”

Mrs McCourt, who helps run SAMM (Support after Murder and Manslaughter) Merseyside, a support group for families who have lost loved ones, said: “It feels like yesterday when Helen went missing.

“You can’t put the time into context other than when you see children who were babies in prams when Helen disappeared who are now approaching their 21st birthdays.

“It’s hard to think of it being 20 years, because that is almost as long as Helen’s life was.

“I lived day-to-day that Helen would be found. If someone had told me at the time that it would have been even five years, never mind 20, I think it would almost have killed me or drove me insane.

“I could not have coped with that.”

In 1989 killer Ian Simms became one of the first people in the UK to be convicted on DNA evidence without the victim’s body having been discovered. He was ordered to serve at least 16 years in jail. Last year his parole application was rejected.

Mrs McCourt said: “I can never forgive him. To me when he does say where Helen is, it is because it is the only way he is going to be released.

“It is nothing to do with regret or what he has put me and Helen’s family through for the last 20 years. It would be total selfishness.”

Mrs McCourt, who for years spent entire weekends searching for her daughter’s body, said: “We still drive round areas and if the land has been sold we contact the builders and ask them if they find anything when they dig the drains or the foundations to ring the police.

“Just before Christmas last year we were told builders had found bones at the site of the former Billinge Hospital and then a few weeks later remains were found in Widnes.

“It wasn’t Helen but even after 20 years your heart still stops.”


'Still waiting to bury my child'


Thursday, 19 December, 2002

Marie McCourt knows the nightmare that Danielle Jones's family is going through. Her daughter Helen was murdered 15 years ago by pub landlord Ian Simms but her body has never been found.

On the day 22-year-old Helen McCourt went missing, her mother had arranged to meet her from work in Liverpool.

The plan was to go for lunch, then do a bit of shopping before driving back to their home in Billinge, a small village near St Helens on Merseyside.

But severe gale-force winds caused Mrs McCourt to change her plans and instead of staying in Liverpool, she decided to go straight home.

Nightmare begins

Later that afternoon, Helen phoned her mother and asked her if she could put her dinner on early because she had a date that evening.

Shortly afterwards, she phoned again asking to borrow the car for a night out that weekend.

Mrs McCourt laughed and said they would talk about it when she got home. It was the last time she would ever speak to her daughter.

Helen never returned home from work and it signalled the beginning of a never-ending nightmare for her mother.

Nearly 15 years later, Miss McCourt's body has never been found despite the fact pub landlord Ian Simms was tried and convicted of her murder 12 months after she disappeared.

'In limbo'

He is now serving a life sentence in Frankland Prison, County Durham.

Mrs McCourt said: "It's an awful, awful thing when you can't bury your child.

"It's like a tap drip, drip, dripping away on my head. I feel as if I am in limbo and can't move on.

"I don't sleep very well and the first thing I do every morning when I wake up is put the news on just in case something has happened overnight.

"Every time a body is found, regardless of where it is, there is that small glimmer of hope that maybe it is Helen.

"When I hear about other families where children go missing, it brings it all back.

'Always punctual'

"It never ever goes away, I could be driving past a field and be thinking that my poor daughter could be buried in that ground."

Reliving that day in February 1988, Mrs McCourt said she instinctively knew something had happened to her daughter.

"She was always very punctual.

"I had heard that some trains had been cancelled because of the weather but when I got through to the railway station they said her train was fine.

"That was when I panicked and knew something had happened.

"The winds were terrible that night and I thought she had been hit by a piece of falling masonry.

"Never in my worst nightmare did I imagine that she could have been murdered."

She said the reality hit home when she made her first television appeal on the BBC.

Earring found

"When that first bulletin goes out it is horrendous because you know that something bad has happened.

"For the first few days I did not eat, sleep or wash. It was always at the back of my mind I would do these things when Helen came home."

The police had a suspect, Ian Simms, within 48 hours of Miss McCourt's disappearance.

His pub was just yards from her home and her earring had been found in the boot of his mud-covered car.

Simms was found guilty of Helen McCourt's murder in February 1989 and sentenced to life.

But Mrs McCourt feels she has also been given a life sentence.

"I will never give up my search for Helen and every day I pray that she is found but I have had to accept that I will have to wait for that man to tell me where my daughter is.

No forgiveness

"I have nieces and my sisters are very good, but as time goes by I see them getting on with their lives and getting married and having children and it hurts me because I know Helen loved children."

"On my mum's 80th birthday we had a party and there was pictures of her with her grandchildren and all I could think was that Helen should have been there."

She has quiet resolution in her feelings towards her daughter's killer.

"It is not my right to forgive him for what he did to Helen. Only she could do that.

"I can only forgive him for what he has done to us as a family and I'm not ready to do that."


Mother welcomes Simms 'news gag'

The Lancashire Evening Telegraph

Thursday 1st Jan 1998

THE mother of murder victim Helen McCourt has spoken of her relief following the decision by an Appeal Court judge to prevent Ian Simms, the man convicted of Helen's murder, speaking to journalists.

Marie McCourt travelled to London for the appeal hearing where it was ruled that Ian Simms could not collaborate with campaigning reporter Bob Woffinden to tell his story.

At the hearing, representatives of Home Secretary Jack Straw successfully overturned a previous ruling from December last year which stated that a ban on talking to the media had been unlawful.

Simms, who was convicted of murdering 22-year-old Helen from Billinge in 1989, was being visited at Full Sutton Jail in York by Mr Woffinden.

Following the result, Marie McCourt, said: "Justice has been done and the right result was gained today. Ian Simms claimed last year that the ban on talking to the media was an infringement of his human rights. But what rights does a murderer or rapist give to the victim? Why should these people be allowed to put their story's across the using the media?

"I am so relieved that this chapter is over and hopefully one day Simms will show remorse by telling us where Helen's body is and giving us the human right of giving our daughter a Christian burial."



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