Why We Need 'Helen's Law' - A 'No Body, No Parole' Rule for Murderers

25/07/2016 13:08 | Updated 25 July 2016

To suffer the anguish of having a loved one murdered is one of the worst events that a family will ever experience.

When they are then denied the chance to hold a proper funeral, the further pain heaped on their grief is beyond imaginable.

My constituent Marie McCourt has been forced to endure what she describes as the "special kind of torture" of knowing she could die without ever discovering the whereabouts of her daughter.

Her daughter Helen McCourt was killed at the age of just 22 by Ian Simms, the landlord of the Liverpool pub where Helen had worked as a barmaid. She disappeared close to her home in Billinge, Lancashire, on February 9 1988.

In a landmark conviction, Simms, who was 31 at the time, was found guilty of murder based on overwhelming DNA evidence - even though Helen's body was never found.

For almost three decades, Simms has tormented Marie McCourt, now 72, by refusing to reveal what happened to her daughter's body. Despite this brutal act of callousness and lack of remorse, Simms could soon be released from jail.

This is a horrible injustice. Killers who visit this kind of suffering on their victims' families should not be released on parole.

That's why I'm backing Marie's campaign for "Helen's Law" and calling on the Government to introduce a "no body, no parole" policy for murderers.

I will be introducing proposals for the new law in the autumn and Marie joined me at Westminster last week as we confirmed the date with the parliamentary authorities.

My Ten Minute Rule Bill on Helen's Law will be heard in the House of Commons on October 11.

I hope that the new justice secretary Liz Truss studies closely the case and the quiet dignity and courage of Marie - and adds the Government's support to my Bill.

This new law would not only give peace to Marie and her family, but countless other families who endure a similar torment.

Helen's Law would also see rarely used common law offences regarding preventing the burial of a body or obstructing a coroner in the burial of a body used automatically in murder trials without a body.

Sadly, the law will be too late for Winnie Johnson who went to her grave never knowing where Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley buried her 12-year-old son Keith Bennett.

But there is still time for Marie to complete her heartbreaking quest - and for other grieving mothers like Joan Morson and Jean Taylor who also saw their children's killers jailed go to jail without revealing victims' bodies lay.

The proposals are simple: if a killer refuses to give information to reveal the location of a victim's body, they should not be considered eligible for parole and remain in jail.

Effectively, it would mean a whole life tariff for murderers who refuse to disclose the location of their victims and enable their remains to be recovered to give families a chance to pay their last respects.

In Australia, they are already considering this plan. A petition here in the UK has already attracted 340,000 people supporting Helen's Law.

The proposal would not affect convicted killers ability to maintain their innocence, as they would still be able to use the full appeals process.

In the case of Helen's killer, Simms' guilt has only been further confirmed at every appeal stage because of the strong DNA evidence against him.

Since we started campaigning, the then prisons minister Andrew Selous has asked parole boards to reexamine the criteria they use to include cases like that of Helen McCourt.

We have also met senior politicians across Parliament including Home Affairs Select Committee chairman Keith Vaz who is considering asking his committee to look at this issue.

Meanwhile, Simms has been moved to an open prison and is being prepared for release on parole.

As the former Home Secretary, Theresa May is aware of Marie's plight. I would urge her and the Government to support Helen's Law and give Marie and grieving relatives like her the peace and justice they deserve.

Conor McGinn is Labour MP for St Helens North