Assembly members call for equivalent of Helen’s Law in Northern Ireland

Proposed legislation would deny parole to killers who do not reveal location of bodies

The family of Helen McCourt, who was murdered in 1988, at Downing Street with a petition to Introduce Helens Law in England, in 2018. File photograph: Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The family of Helen McCourt, who was murdered in 1988, at Downing Street with a petition to Introduce Helens Law in England, in 2018. File photograph: Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto via Getty Images

 

The Northern Assembly has endorsed a motion designed to ensure that prisoners convicted of murder and child sex offences are not eligible for release until they disclose the location of their victims’ remains or the identity of their victims.

The motion, tabled by DUP MLAs Alex Easton and Paul Givan, is modelled on Helen’s Law, which was recently adopted at Westminster to deny parole to killers who refuse to disclose the location of the bodies of their victims.

It was named after Helen McCourt, an insurance clerk who was murdered in Merseyside in 1988. Ian Simms was convicted of her murder in 1989 and released in February this year without disclosing the location of her remains.

During the debate in the Assembly, many speakers made reference to the murder of Co Tyrone woman Charlotte Murray, who was killed sometime between October 31st and November 1st, 2012. Her body has never been found despite searches.

Her former fiancé Johnny Miller, a 49-year-old chef from Redford Park, Dungannon in Co Tyrone, was in 2018 found guilty of her murder and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Reference also was made to Co Down woman Lisa Dorrian, who is believed to have been murdered in 2005. Her body has never been found and no one has been convicted of her suspected murder.

With the support of Alliance justice Minister Naomi Long an amendment was put down to the DUP motion by Alliance MLAs Kellie Armstrong and Paula Bradshaw, broadly supporting the principle of the motion but warning of legal pitfalls if an attempt were made to enact precipitate legislation.

The amendment said that such matters were already routinely considered by the Parole Commissioners for Northern Ireland when assessing prisoners’ suitability for release on licence.

Ms Long told the Assembly that it was important that the discretion of the parole commissioners was maintained. She also warned that introducing such legislation could have “unintended consequences”.

Mr Easton, in referring to the Charlotte Murray and Lisa Dorrian cases, said the introduction of Helen’s Law to Northern Ireland would be a step forward for victims.

“Both these families have suffered an unimaginable loss, and in the case of Charlotte, her killer still refuses to reveal the location of her remains,” he said.

“Such actions mean that even when a killer has been prosecuted and convicted they can still effectively exert control over their victim,” he said.

The Alliance motion was rejected and the DUP motion passed.