Marie McCourt, 73, from Billinge, St Helens, Lancs wants justice for her beautiful daughter...
The lamb chops sizzled under the grill. Just how Helen likes them, I thought.
It was 5.15pm on 9 February 1988 and my 22-year-old daughter was due back from her job at an insurance firm.
Gale-force winds had been blowing all day. I’d be glad to have her in safely. But two hours later, her dinner was ruined.
‘Maybe she’s been delayed,’ said my partner John.
But Helen would always ring from a phone box if late.
I called her office in Liverpool. Then her colleagues, friends, train and bus companies…
Helen had left work as usual. And her journey home was unaffected by the storm.
‘Something’s wrong,’ I said.
John got the car out. I craned my neck as we followed her route, but the streets were deserted.
At 9.30pm, I reported Helen missing to police.
‘She’s probably out having a drink,’ the duty officer said.
‘Please help,’ I begged. ‘I think she’s hurt.’
He issued a description of Helen to squads starting night shifts.
Back home, I sat up all night – my mind filled with awful images.
At 4am, a car pulled up and my heart leapt, but it was the police arriving to gather more details and a photo of Helen.
Soon, her pretty face was flashing up on local TV news. To me, John and my youngest Michael, 19, it felt unreal.
Police made enquiries and found Helen had made her usual journey home, with the bus dropping her just 250m from our house. Then she’d vanished. A huge search party was launched.
On Thursday evening, after a mass at our local church, two detectives visited.
They showed me an opal and sapphire earring, identical to a pair Helen had. Said it’d been found in the car boot of the landlord of the local, the George and Dragon.
Ian Simms had come under suspicion when questioned about Helen, so the police had searched his property. In the car, they’d also found traces of blood…
Helen knew Simms. Like lots of young folk locally, she’d go to the pub – just 250m from our home.
With Simms under arrest, more horrific evidence surfaced. And the hope my girl would come home alive died.
Searches of the pub revealed traces of blood on the stairs leading to Simms’ living area. His blood-stained clothes were found on a canal towpath.
He was charged with Helen’s murder. But the police hadn’t found her body. Denying everything, Simms wouldn’t say.
Six weeks later, my daughter’s clothes – including her favourite green mittens – were found on a riverbank 20 miles away, along with a knotted flex, thought to have been used to kill Helen.
‘Please find her,’ I begged police.
Weeks, then months, passed. Police searched extensively, but there was no sign of Helen.
In February 1989 at Liverpool Crown Court, Ian Simms, 33, denied murder.
It was only the third murder case to be tried without a body, and one of the earliest to use new DNA technology.
People always said Helen and I looked alike, so I’d grown my hair long. I wanted Simms to look at me in court – to see the brilliant, beautiful girl he’d killed.
The evidence against Simms was overwhelming. We heard that there was a one in 168,000 chance that the blood found in the pub did not come from a child of mine and her father.
Cleaners had found the pub clean and smelling of bleach when they turned up for work the day after Helen disappeared. They found Simms scrubbing an area at the bottom of the stairs – he never normally cleaned.
Police suggested his motive was that Simms and Helen and fallen out following a row Helen had with a drunken woman in the pub two days earlier.
After 16 days, the jury returned their verdict. Guilty.
Surely now Simms would admit what he’d done with my daughter. But police came to see me, shaking their heads. He refused to speak with them.
Without a proper funeral, how could we grieve? Say goodbye..?
The thought of my daughter out there, alone in the cold, tormented me.
‘We have to find her,’ I told John and Michael.
We formed a search squad – hiring sniffer dogs and diggers.
We crawled through sewer pipes, drained ponds and even cleared a rubble-filled mine shaft – boulder by boulder.
After three years of this hell, I wrote to Simms.
Please tell me where she is so we can both get on with our lives.
His reply was sickening – urging me to repent my sins and promising that, one day, he would have justice.
I hit rock bottom…
In 1995, I joined a charity called Support After Murder And Manslaughter (SAMM) in Merseyside. Helping other bereaved families gave me purpose.
Simms made unsuccessful appeals against his conviction. In 1999, he challenged the findings of the DNA evidence, but now technology suggested the odds of the blood found not being Helen’s was nine million to one.
Still refusing to accept his guilt and tell us where Helen was, every time Simms came up for parole, it was denied.
In spring 2015, I found Simms had been downgraded to a Category C prison. I was furious.
An idea had been growing for a while. Now, it was time…
I launched a campaign for Helen’s Law – for parole to be denied to killers who refuse to co-operate in the search for their victims.
My online petition went viral – got over 320,000 signatures.
Then, in February 2016, a probation officer rang.
‘The parole board have recommended Simms be moved to an open prison,’ she said.
‘They can’t do this!’ I cried.
I got the support of my MP Conor McGinn, who joined John, Michael and myself when we presented the petition to Downing Street that month.
And, in October – accompanied by families of six other missing murder victims – we attended the House of Commons to hear Conor present a Ten Minute Bill entitled Helen’s Law.
We wept as he spoke of our missing loved ones, and the ordeal with which we live every day.
There wasn’t a single objection.
A second reading’s scheduled for February 2017. But there’s still a long journey ahead of us. Only a fraction of proposed bills succeed.
So we need help. We’re calling on everyone to write to the Prime Minister Theresa May and Justice Secretary Liz Truss – urging them to implement Helen’s Law.
My greatest fear is going to my own grave without finding Helen.
Burying a child is every parent’s worst nightmare. But it’s all I want – more than anything in the world.
Please help me to bring Helen – and other missing murder victims – home.
Sign the petition at change.org/HelensLaw, write to your MP, the RT hon PM Theresa May and Justice Secretary Liz Truss at 10 Downing Street, London, SW1A 2AA or e-mail them at http://email.number10.gov.uk urging their support. Find your MP at www.theyworkforyou.com. For more info, see www.helens-law.org, Marie’s Facebook page Helens Law or Twitter @marie_mccourt.