Marie McCourt has long campaigned to make it harder for murderers to achieve parole in circumstances where they refuse to reveal the location of their victim
The mother of a woman who was murdered more than 30 years ago has been left “bitterly disappointed” after a Divisional Court decision to reject her appeal to keep her daughter’s killer behind bars.
Thompsons supported Marie McCourt, 77, on a pro bono basis in her legal challenge to reverse the decision to release convicted murderer Ian Simms, who refuses to disclose information about the location of the body of her daughter, Helen McCourt.
Helen McCourt was murdered by Simms in February 1988 in Billinge, Merseyside, when she was 22 years old. He was one of the first people in the UK to be convicted based on DNA evidence.
The challenge by Marie McCourt argued that the Parole Board decision to release Simms was wrong because it applied the wrong ‘legal test’, was irrational, and was procedurally unfair.
Judges at a virtual Divisional Court hearing found in favour of the Parole Board, meaning that Simms won’t be returned to prison following his release earlier this year having served 32 years of his life sentence.
Commenting on the decision, Marie McCourt said: “I am bitterly disappointed at the decision. This was my last chance to get my daughter’s killer to admit where he hid her body. Sadly, I have lost.
“I did my best, and so did my legal team but, sadly, this hasn’t produced the result we wanted in getting Simms back into prison. We are now discussing my next steps.”
Despite not agreeing to overturn the decision to release Simms, the judges accepted the principle that a Parole Board decision to release a convicted killer can be challenged by the family of the victim – something Simms’ legal team claimed could not happen – which means families in the future will not be ‘shut out’ of a Judicial Review.
We are pleased that the court accepted the principle that a Parole Board decision to release can be challenged by the family of the victim, but it is disappointing that an unrepentant murderer has been given the green light to leave prison
Craig Hunn, Thompsons Solicitors
Mrs McCourt’s legal representatives, Tom Little QC, James Thacker and Tom Rainsbury, of 9 Gough Chambers, and Craig Hunn of Thompsons Solicitors, were also able to negotiate a position that meant that she wouldn’t be left out of pocket despite the case being unsuccessful, thanks to an agreement that she would only pay what had been raised by a Crowdfunding campaign.
Mrs McCourt continued: “While disappointed, I am celebrating one small victory – and that is the High Court’s ruling that I did have legal standing to bring this challenge – something that Simms’ legal team argued against.
“Although I have lost my own claim I have successfully paved the way for any other family to now challenge a decision by the Parole Board. It is a small comfort but one that, I hope, will have implications for others – particularly in missing body murder cases.
“In addition, I am relieved that costs incurred in bringing this action will not exceed the amount I have successfully raised in my crowdfunding campaign. I would like to thank every single donor for making this possible.”
Craig Hunn, of Thompsons Solicitors, added: “We are pleased that the court accepted the principle that a Parole Board decision to release can be challenged by the family of the victim, but it is disappointing that an unrepentant murderer has been given the green light to leave prison.
“Public safety is understandably a key factor on release of a convicted murderer, but for the victim’s family the refusal to reveal the location of Helen’s body or formally accept responsibility means their pain continues and they have no peace. The decision lets a murderer walk free while they continue to taunt their victim’s family by their silence.
“We believe that a murderer who refuses to allow their victim the dignity of being properly laid to rest has not begun to meaningfully engage in a process of rehabilitation. In such cases, there should be a presumption that the offender remains a danger to the public.”