Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of the disappearance of 22-year-old Liverpool office worker Helen McCourt who vanished as she made her way home in what was to become one of Merseyside's most notorious murder cases.
Daily Post reporter Liam Murphy speaks to her mother Marie McCourt, who has spent the last two decades searching for her daughter's body, following a pub landlord's conviction for her daughter's murder, as well as helping others deal with the aftermath of a relative being murdered.
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 transport network.
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 down, crying.”
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.