IT WAS a stormy
day with weather forecasters advising people not to
make unnecessary journeys on February 9, 1988, when
Helen McCourt vanished.
Marie McCourt had planned to meet
her daughter for lunch after taking her grandmother
for a hospital appointment.
But being a nervous driver, after
hearing the weather report she cancelled the lunch
meeting – a decision which she says led to her
blaming herself for what happened to her daughter.
Pub landlord Ian Simms, from
Billinge, the village where Helen lived, was later
convicted for her murder, although Helen’s body has
never been found.
The last Marie McCourt heard from
her daughter was a call that afternoon in which she
asked that her tea be ready early because she was
going out with her boyfriend on a date that evening.
She told her mother she would be
home about 5.15 to 5.30pm, but she never arrived.
At first Marie McCourt was not
too concerned. The weather reports remained bad, and
when she heard on the radio a tree had been blown on
the railway line, it seemed likely Helen had just
been caught up in the delays affecting the local
But as the evening wore on Marie
McCourt checked with the railways and found Helen’s
train was not affected.
Eventually, after fruitless calls
to hospitals and Helen’s workplace, the Royal
Insurance in Liverpool, she and partner John
Sandwell travelled into the city in an attempt to
trace her daughter.
They eventually ended up
reporting her missing that night at a city centre
police station, but a sceptical officer was
convinced the 22-year-old had “just gone for a few
drinks with friends” and would turn up.
Marie said: “I told him Helen
wasn’t like that, that she would phone. Then I broke
She said he promised them he
would alert other officers coming on duty and agreed
she could call him every hour if she wanted, but
advised to go home and await Helen’s return.
What followed was a major
investigation, with Billinge high street packed with
volunteers offering to help in a search of the area
for the missing young woman.
Simms, who was convicted of her
murder, has always denied involvement in Helen
McCourt’s death, leaving Marie McCourt without her
daughter’s body to bury.
It is this which still scars her.
She said: “I still believe her
body will be found. Whether he [Simms] tells us, or
it comes from a member of the public.”
The search for Helen continues,
and several years ago Marie McCourt even employed a
psychic detective, but the effort proved fruitless.
Simms has come up for parole but
so far it has been refused, and the Criminal Cases
Review Commission also told him his case would not
be referred back to the Court of Appeal.
The death caused a delay in
Marie’s marriage to long -time partner John Sandwell,
who she had planned to wed in April 1988.
But Helen’s disappearance put
that off and the couple married five years later.
And together they have forged
forward with Survivors of Murder and Manslaughter (Samm)
Merseyside, operating a hotline for others who have
lost a relative to murder.
Marie said this work has helped
her deal with her own grief, but anniversaries,
Christmas, and birthdays are still hard and the
couple always go away in January ahead of the
anniversary of Helen’s disappearance.
Marie said: “That chilling out is
to get me prepared for the February, and to deal
with it all.”
And because of her involvement
with Samm when she returns it is often to a mountain
of work in which to immerse herself.
But tomorrow (Sat Feb 9), on the
anniversary of her daughter’s disappearance, Marie
McCourt is left with only memories to hold on to.
The day of Helen’s disappearance
is “still like yesterday” for her.
She said that tomorrow, she will
be “thinking of the daughter that should still be
with us”. he said: “Possibly with her own family –
she would have made a great mum.”
Asked what she thought her
daughter would be like, Marie said: “I’d have to go
back and look at pictures of me when I was 42 –
because she would be 42 now.
“She’d be a mum, could even be a
“I feel sad – can’t say angry
because no one is entitled to have their children
all the time – I feel sad that she is not here with
her family who all miss her so much.
“But I just wish I had somewhere
to go, somewhere permanent where she could be
Her aim is to make sure her
daughter is not forgotten, and through her work with
others, as well as the continuing search for Helen’s
body, she is managing to keep the memory of her
daughter in people’s minds.
Fighting back the tears she
reiterated the same wish she has expressed over the
last two decades, saying “I just wish I could take
some flowers to her grave”.