Marie McCourt: “I will find Helen again, if not on this earth then the next one.”

After the death of her daughter’s killer, Ian Simms, Marie McCourt knows she may never bury Helen, but it won’t stop her hoping and searching.


by Carole Richardson |

It’s four weeks since Marie McCourt last went out searching rough woodland for her murdered daughter’s body and her legs are still bearing the scars.

“The nettles came up to my nose!” she recalls as she pulls up her trouser legs to reveal an angry red rash.

It’s 34 years since 22-year-old Helen from Billinge, near St Helens, Merseyside, was murdered by pub landlord Ian Simms who refused to reveal what he did with her body. His recent death means he’s taken the macabre secret to his grave, leaving Marie facing the brutal fact that she may never give her daughter the Christian burial so important to her.

“I still hope that Helen can be found but I can’t foresee it…” she admits as we chat at her home, surrounded by photographs of her pretty, dark-haired daughter. Not that she’s giving up. Far from it.

“I’ll never give up hope and I’m not giving up the search for my daughter. It’s down to me now,” she says.

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In truth, Marie had long given up expecting Simms - sentenced to life imprisonment on overwhelming forensic evidence in 1989 – to reveal Helen’s whereabouts.

“For years I lived in hope that he’d end my torment but as time’s gone on, I’ve accepted he wasn’t going to tell me anything. So this latest news has lifted a weight off my shoulders. He’s out of our lives, and I don't have to worry about him ever coming back.”

A handwritten, abusive letter from Simms, sent in reply to the only one Marie wrote begging him to come clean, convinced her.

“It made me realise what a horrible, dangerous man he was,” she says.

Instead, she channelled her efforts into searching for Helen’s remains and successfully campaigning to introduce Helen’s Law to deny killers parole without revealing victims’ whereabouts. Marie’s endeavours kept Simms behind bars for 34 years but he was released two-and-a-half years ago, tagged, and ordered not to go within 50 miles of her home. Always fearful he’d turn up on her doorstep when detagged, Marie’s torment continued.

News of his death came in a phone call on June 29. Asked if she was upset by the bombshell, her reply was a firm no. Returning home, she eagerly relayed ‘the best news ever’ to husband John: “He’s dead!”

“There was no champagne celebration or anything because I wouldn’t waste the money on him,” she says.

That night, she did include Simms in her prayers.

 “I prayed he was in hell,” she openly admits. Squaring that bold statement with a faith that advocates forgiveness is not an issue.

“Maybe I could have forgiven him - if he’d shown compassion,” she promises. “But you can’t forgive somebody if they are not regretful. And he wasn’t.

“As for God, I put my trust in God. There are reasons that it had to be Helen…”

Marie believes that because she raised the alarm so soon after Helen didn’t return home – her daughter had called three times reminding her to have tea ready – police reacted straight away.

“Another mother may not have raised the alarm so quickly and Simms would have got away with murder,” she explains.

Since the introduction of Helen’s Law in January 2021, she already knows of four cases where it’s stopped killers getting parole, sparing other families her anguish.

“It is a basic human right to be able to lay a loved one to rest. That’s been denied so cruelly to Helen and so many other missing murder victims. I will continue to fight for justice and further legislation on their behalf,” she vows.

Public support in the wake of Simms’ death has been overwhelming. One of the first to write to Marie was Joan Lawrence, whose chef daughter Claudia has been missing for 13 years.

“I saw you on breakfast TV this morning and I felt for you so much. You spoke so well; I am afraid I cracked up listening to you. It brings it all back,” she wrote.

Marie’s hope now lies with the public and top forensic and archeological experts. Guided by them, she’ll search any new areas of interest.

“My wellies are never far away. I would still love nothing more than to lay Helen to rest in the churchyard and place flowers on her grave.”

Her age, knee problems and osteoarthritis in her wrists are all reminders that time isn’t on her side and she’s hoping Simms will have confided in someone who will now come forward.

Despite all, her hope – like her Catholic faith – is as strong as ever.

“I will find Helen again, if not on this earth then the next one. If I drop dead tomorrow, I just hope our Helen will be there to catch me,” she adds.

You can also watch 'When Missing Turns to Murder', which follows Helen's disappearance on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

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