My daughter's killer has been released from prison but won't tell us where her body is
Marie McCourt's heart shattered when police confirmed that her daughter had been murdered.
Thirty-three years on, the body of 22-year-old Helen still hasn't been found. "When there is no body, the lives of families are totally destroyed," McCourt tells me.
Making matters even worse, the killer, Ian Simms was released from prison last year – four days before the 32nd anniversary of Helen's murder.
And he is still refusing to reveal where Helen's body is.
'He's controlling my family'
McCourt tells me she is desperate to find her daughter. "All we want is to be able to give our loved one a last goodbye," she explains. "When you don't have that, there is no end to your grief. It destroys your body."
The heartbroken mother believes that criminals who refuse to disclose the whereabouts of their victims do so to exercise control. "He's controlling me and my family, and it works," she explains. "33 years on, and we are still searching. That's how important it is for families like mine."
Indeed, to this day, McCourt still has people – anonymous or otherwise – who get in touch with tips. And she investigates each and every one. "I couldn't tell you have many spades or rakes we have bought," she says. "I have to keep going out."
To continue searching, however, takes a financial, as well as an emotional, toll.
Support for families of murder victims
McCourt has long taken umbrage with the fact that there is little government aid for the families of murder victims.
Last year, in an devastating turn, McCourt was ordered to pay Simms' legal costs (£40,000) after she pushed for a judicial review of the Parole Board's decision to release Simms, which was rejected. Ultimately, it was decided that money raised through her crowdfunding page could be used to cover costs.
Recounting that period of time, McCourt simply says: "You can understand how it almost broke me."
While she is thankful that families can now take out judicial reviews, she questions where the legal system thinks that money comes from. "The family, we don't get anything," she stresses. "If my daughter had have been found at the time, the government would not have even funded her funeral."
As she points out, she wasn't even eligible for criminal compensation back in 1988, as Helen was over the age of 18 at the time of her death.
It's unsurprising then that McCourt feels failed by the legal justice system.
"They have taken our lives away from us, the parole board, and the parole judge, when they release these killers," she states, while stressing her enduring gratitude towards Merseyside Police, who caught Simms. "All of our families are let down by the legal system, because we have to fight for every little thing."
Distraught and let down by the system, McCourt began fighting for change. After years of campaigning, Helen's Law – the "no body, no parole" bill, named after her daughter – was finally passed in November 2020.
Tragically, this was too later for McCourt's family. But this has not stopped them from continuing to search for Helen's body or from campaigning to get similar laws passed in the rest of the UK for others who are facing the same ordeal.
"I have so many families who get in touch with me, and I do as much as I can," McCourt tells me. "I know what to say to them because I have been through it. A lot of families don't have the knowledge of what they can and can't do."
McCourt adds that she's even been speaking to police who are training to become family liaison officers. Explaining – for example – how families might react when asked certain questions, and how to deal with their inevitable anger.
Helen's Law spreads across the nation
McCourt has also been in touch with families who are looking to implement similar laws in their countries.
There is the family of Charlotte Murray, who are looking pass "Charlotte's Law" in Northern Ireland. Murray was killed aged 34 by her former fiancée, Johnny Miller, sometime in 2012.
She also says that there are other families who have approached her – in Scotland, the Republic of Ireland, and even Australia. For them, McCourt's knowledge and support will undoubtedly prove invaluable.
Looking tot he future, McCourt vows to never stop looking for her daughter, campaigning for justice or helping other faces with the same heartache. "I have done it for so long now," she explains. "I just want to tell families in the same situation to be strong.
"We know how families are hurting because they were unable to hold their loved one's hand or let them know that they were there when they took their last breath. It should call to the humanity in us.
"Let us be a bee in the bonnet of the justice system. They have take into account how it would feel if it were their loved one, and their body was not found.
"Continue and do not give up."