A SUMMARY of the Parole Board's decision to release Ian Simms - the man convicted of murdering Helen McCourt 31 years ago - from prison on life licence has been released.

The summary, including the decision and conditions are published in full below.


As required by law, Mr Simms’ case was referred to the Parole Board by the Secretary of State for Justice to determine whether he could be safely released on parole licence. If not, the panel should consider whether remaining in open conditions could be recommended.

The case was considered at an oral hearing on 8th November 2019.

The panel was legally obliged to direct release if it was satisfied that it was no longer necessary for the protection of the public that Mr Simms remained confined in prison.

St Helens Star:

Simms arriving at St Helens Magistrates Court in 1988 Picture: PA

If the panel did not find that he was safe to be released, it must make a balanced assessment of the risks and benefits of remaining in open conditions and provide a recommendation to the Secretary of State.

In reaching its decision, the panel considered the contents of Mr Simms’ dossier of 693 pages prepared by the Secretary of State. The panel was also provided with submissions on behalf of the Secretary of State as to how the panel should approach their decision.

St Helens Star:

A panel of the Parole Board consisting of a psychiatrist, a judicial member and an independent member considered the case. At the hearing, the panel took oral evidence from a psychologist employed by the Prison Service, an independent psychologist commissioned by Mr Simms’ legal representative, the official supervising Mr Simms in custody and two probation officers based in the community.

The Secretary of State was also represented at the hearing. Mr Simms also gave evidence to the panel. A legal representative on behalf of the victim’s family also attended as an observer but played no part in proceedings.

On the day before the hearing, the panel had the benefit of hearing a number of victim personal statements. Two of those statements were read out by their authors and one was read out on behalf of the person who had written it.

St Helens Star:

The search for Helens's remains in 1988

The panel took careful notice of the descriptions of the ongoing consequences of this crime, in particular the significant trauma caused by the fact that the body of the victim has never been found. The panel took note of the family’s concerns for their own safety if Mr Simms were to be released and their belief that it was only if Mr Simms was kept in custody that they would ever find out the location of the body.

St Helens Star:

Marie McCourt


Mr Simms is serving a mandatory life sentence following conviction, in 1989, for Murder. His tariff was set at 16 years and a day. He therefore became eligible to be considered for release on 15th February 2004.

Mr Simms is now 63 years old. This was Mr Simms’ seventh review by the Parole Board. On his sixth review in 2016, the panel had recommended his transfer to open conditions due to the progress he had made. The Secretary of State had accepted this recommendation.


Having considered the index offence and the evidence before it, the panel listed risk factors associated with Mr Simms at the time of offending. Risk factors are the things in life that make it more likely that Mr Simms would offend. These had included thinking it is acceptable to use violence in certain situations, using violence to solve problems, unhelpful attitudes towards women, bearing a grudge, struggling to cope with his emotions, using illegal drugs, misusing alcohol, not following the rules, not understanding his own risk factors and not having the skills to manage them. In addition, the panel identified that mental health issues and not taking the necessary medication properly were risk factors that had developed since coming to prison.

In making its decision the panel also carefully considered the continued denial of this offence and Mr Simms’ failure to disclose the whereabouts of the victim’s body. The panel received submissions from the Secretary of State regarding the legal aspects of this case. The panel is bound by decisions made by the Court of Appeal and the Administrative Court where these issues have been discussed. The panel also followed the official Guidance set out by the Parole Board on when the body of the victim has never been disclosed.

The panel made it clear that its decision is based on the conviction being entirely correct. The panel therefore has to look at the reasons why Mr Simms has not revealed this information.

Both psychologists had completed assessments of Mr Simms, which took into account the ongoing denial of the offence and presented their findings to the panel. Having carefully considered the expert evidence, the panel concluded there is no prospect of Mr Simms ever disclosing the whereabouts of his victim even if he were kept in prison until he died.

This is because Mr Simms is so heavily invested in presenting himself as someone who is innocent of the index offence, to the point where he may believe that to be the case, that he will avoid any behaviour that would be inconsistent with this presentation of himself.

This refusal inevitably continues to cause understandable distress and misery to the victim’s family and the panel concluded this demonstrated a lack of empathy.

As the panel is required to do so, the panel looked at how Mr Simms’ denial impacts on the risk posed to the public and it concluded that this was a significant factor. As a consequence Mr Simms was unable to complete any accredited offending behaviour programmes because of the denial.

However, as set out by previous case law, the Parole Board must consider this amongst the other relevant risk factors when making its decisions and not view denial as a necessarily determining factor.

The panel also considered whether Mr Simms presented any risk of violence to members of the victims’ family. The panel noted that in 1991 and 1993, when Mr Simms suffered from poor mental health, he had made contact with the family of the victim. However, the panel was satisfied that Mr Simms does not now present such a risk.

The panel listed protective factors that are now in place for Mr Simms. Protective factors are the things in life that make it less likely that he would reoffend. These included having family support, having a good understanding of his own mental health issues, taking his medication properly and his good communication with the professionals that work with him.

Evidence was presented regarding the times that Mr Simms has spent on temporary release since his move to open conditions over three years ago, which included periods of time spent overnight. The panel heard that Mr Simms had followed the rules when trusted with temporary release and had coped well with them.

The official supervising Mr Simms’ case and the probation officers dealing with his case in the community also recommended that he should be released. Both psychologists also recommended that Mr Simms should be released.

The panel considered the release plan provided by Mr Simms’ probation officer. The plan included significant monitoring and professional support. The panel concluded this plan was robust enough to manage Mr Simms in the community.


Taking into account the denial, the refusal to reveal where the victim’s body is, all the risk factors, the progress that Mr Simms has made, the considerable change in his behaviour, the fact that he has not been involved in any violence or substance misuse for many years, his protective factors, the recommendations from all the professionals and all the evidence presented at the hearing, the panel was satisfied that Mr Simms met the test for release.

Mr Simms’ release is subject to the following licence conditions, which must be strictly adhered to, including:

• To reside at a designated address, be of good behaviour, and report as required for supervision or other appointments;

• To wear a GPS tagging device to monitor his whereabouts

• To avoid any contact with the victim’s family and comply with an associated exclusion zone;

• To abide by an overnight curfew;

• To notify his probation officer of any developing relationships with women.

These conditions may be added to, or varied, on application to the Parole Board.