Helen’s Law receives Royal Assent after 'tireless' five-year campaign

A new law that could deny parole to killers who refuse to reveal where they hid their victim’s body gained Royal Assent yesterday (November 4) after a mother’s five-year campaign.

Nov 5, 2020
By Paul Jacques
Helen McCourt

The Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Act – known commonly as ‘Helen’s Law’ – is expected to come into force in the coming weeks.

It means killers who withhold information on their victims could now spend longer behind bars.

It will also apply to paedophiles who refuse to identify those they abused.

The new law follows the “tireless campaigning” of Marie McCourt, mother of Helen McCourt who was murdered in 1988 but whose killer has never revealed her body’s location. Fifty-nine-year-old pub landlord Ian Simms was convicted by a jury on DNA evidence of the 22-year-old’s murder.

Simms was one of the first persons to be convicted on DNA evidence without the victim’s body having been discovered.

He was released from prison earlier this year despite refusing to help Merseyside Police find her remains.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said Parole Board guidance was already clear that offenders who withhold this type of information may still pose a risk to the public and therefore could be denied parole.

“However, the Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Act places a legal duty on the Parole Board for the first time to consider the anguish caused by murderers who refuse to disclose the location of a victim’s body when considering them for release,” it added.

The MoJ said the law will also apply to paedophiles who make indecent images of children but do not identify their victims – such as the case of Vanessa George who abused infants at a nursery school but never formally identified which children she harmed.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said denying families a chance to “lay their loved ones to rest is a cruelty beyond words”, and compounds their grief still further.

He added: “Helen’s Law makes it absolutely clear that murderers and evil sexual offenders who refuse to disclose information about their victims should expect to face longer behind bars.

“Thanks to the tireless efforts of Marie McCourt and other campaigners more families should get the answers and closure they deserve.”

The MoJ said the Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) will come into force in the coming weeks, adding: “This follows a radical overhaul of sentencing policy recently outlined in a White Paper, which seeks to better protect the public by ensuring dangerous criminals are kept in prison for longer.

“Human rights legislation protects against arbitrary detention, and the proposed new law balances this with the need to keep the public safe. The proposals also take into account instances where, for example, a murderer may genuinely not know the location of a victim’s body if it has been moved.”

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