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Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:51 pm on 11th February 2020.

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Photo of Stephen Metcalfe Stephen Metcalfe Conservative, South Basildon and East Thurrock 2:51 pm, 11th February 2020

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me so early in this important debate.

I warmly welcome today’s Second Reading and the introduction of a Bill that will place a statutory obligation on the Parole Board to take into account an offender’s non-disclosure of certain information when making decisions about the release from prison of certain prisoners. It is right, proper and decent that the Parole Board should be required to take into account the failure of a prisoner to disclose the whereabouts of a victim’s body, or the identity of a child victim in indecent images.

I want to focus my remarks on non-disclosure about murder victims. The Bill has been a long time coming, and at times I was concerned that we may never see it come forward. It is most welcome because this is not some technical law change; it is about real people, real victims, real families, and real hurt and anguish. This is about Helen McCourt and her family. It is about my constituent Linda Jones and her family, and her murdered daughter, Danielle Jones. It is about all the families who have been denied the opportunity to put to rest a loved one who was killed or murdered in the most distressing way. The number of families involved in the non-disclosure of victims’ bodies may be small, but however small the cohort is I am sure we can all understand the pain and hurt caused by withholding the whereabouts of a loved one’s body. This legislation is welcome, but, unfortunately, Helen’s law comes too late for some.

I believe that Marie McCourt is watching these proceedings. Together with my hon. Friend—I will call him that—Conor McGinn, she has campaigned for many years for the introduction of such a Bill. They will have to live with the fact that for Marie this comes too late. Despite pressure on the Parole Board, attempts at a judicial review and an application for reconsideration from the Justice Secretary, all of which were unsuccessful, the Parole Board stuck to its original decision and a few days ago Helen McCourt’s killer, Ian Simms, was released, having never disclosed the whereabouts of Helen’s body. I can only imagine how distressing it must be for Marie to hear us talking about those tragic events, and to know that Simms has been released must be heartbreaking. I can only express my personal sorrow that this legislation did not come earlier and that we were not able to stop Simms’ release.

I do hope that Marie will take some comfort from knowing that her dedication to this cause, her steadfast belief that the law should change and her determination not to give up is what has brought us here today, and that it will provide some comfort and hope for other families affected by the cruel and heartless actions of those who refuse to reveal the location of a victim’s remains. On behalf of all the families and victims, I thank you, Marie. I thank you on behalf of Linda Jones, the mother of Danielle Jones, who was last seen alive on 18 June 2001.

First, the police thought that Danielle had been abducted. I do not wish to go into all the details of the case, for fear of causing renewed distress, but I can say that ultimately the investigation became a murder inquiry. On 14 November 2001, Danielle’s uncle, Stuart Campbell, was charged with murder, although her body had not been found. At the ensuing trial, in December 2002, Campbell was found guilty of both abduction and murder, and sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, to run concurrently with a 10-year sentence for abduction. The High Court later ruled that Campbell should serve a minimum of 20 years before being considered for parole, meaning that in November 2021, despite never revealing the location of Danielle’s body, Campbell could be considered for release.

The loss of a child—the murder of a child—would be hard enough, but to never have the opportunity to say goodbye and know where they are must be an intolerable burden for Linda and the family to bear. Although this Bill will not bring Danielle back, I hope it will encourage Campbell and others who withhold such information to reconsider their actions and give families some small comfort by revealing the location of victims’ remains. If they do not, I, for one, believe—and I am sure others agree—that parole should be denied. With all the caveats that we have heard from the Justice Secretary, if the victims have to live with the indeterminate pain of not being able to get some form of closure, I see no reason why the perpetrators should be able to move on. This welcome Bill goes some way to achieving that. It will therefore receive my full support, and I hope the support of the whole House, so that Helen’s law can stand as a memorial to all the victims, their families, and, in particular, Marie’s tireless campaign to see justice done.