A matter of facts

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The Independent Culture
Bob Woffinden's report on Ian Simms, the landlord of a Lancashire pub who was jailed for the murder of Helen McCourt ("Burden of proof", 28 January), contains certain inaccuracies and omissions which must be challenged.

It is no secret that Simms consistently lied to the police, his young mistress, his wife and the grieving family of the girl he is convicted of having murdered.

Mr Woffinden claims that there was no animosity between Simms and Helen. But on the Sunday before Helen's disappearance, when Simms had banned Helen from his pub, his language had been obscene and he had told several customers that he hated her. He also believed that Helen had been talking about the late-night drinking sessions at his pub, and about his affair with Tracy Hornby.

One of the arguments which is being advanced to prove Simms's innocence is that Simms has constantly denied that clothes found on a public towpath were his. In fact, Simms did finally admit ownership. It is also the case that Simms's clothes were not found on a towpath, but well away, on a rough track. Simms had had no option but to abandon them when he was disturbed by an Alsatian which had run ahead of its master. Helen's clothes, along with Simms's jacket, were not left in a place where they could easily be discovered: they were well hidden in a place which entailed a steep and difficult descent through a dense covering of shrubs and trees.

It was only after these clothes had been found, a month after Helen had disappeared, that the police were able to cross-match fibres on the clothes with the carpets in Simms's flat. Simms tried to explain away the carpet fibres on Helen's coat by saying that she had often draped her coat over bar stools in his pub. This does not, however, account for the number and distribution of fibres on the back of Helen's coat, which indicated forcible contact with the carpets in Simms's flat. There were, moreover, two types of carpet fibres on the coat, one of which was only found in Simms's flat, and not in the pub. Furthermore, Helen's trousers were brand new and had never been worn before the day she disappeared, yet they, too, had fibres on them from the carpets in Simms's flat.

But the most glaring omission in Mr Woffinden's article is his failure to mention that Mr Simms's own defence counsel, Mr David Turner, had stated in October 1990 when applying for leave to appeal, that Simms was "physically strong and an expert in Thai boxing, and it could be that he never intended Miss McCourt really serious harm".

Tragically, by supporting Simms and giving him false hope, Mr Woffinden is delaying the moment when Simms finally comes to terms with what he has done. Without Woffinden's intervention, Marie McCourt could now be at peace. Simms could well have told her where Helen's remains have lain since 1988, and Marie could have been able to give her daughter the decent Christian burial which is her right.

kathleen moodie

Billinge, Lancashire

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