Cannibal killer denied parole under new ‘Helen’s Law’

Helen's Law

Teesside Crown Court

Helen’s Law has prevented David Harker from walking free

A self-proclaimed ‘cannibal killer’ who told police he ate parts of his victim’s body has been refused parole under a new clause named Helen’s Law. The new law denies freedom to those who know the location of a body but will not reveal it. David Harker has been serving a life sentence since 1999 after admitting the manslaughter of Julie Paterson.

Julie’s partial remains were discovered a month after she was declared missing in Darlington, but Harker has never disclosed where the rest of her body may be. Due to this lack of information, he has been refused parole under Helen’s Law, one of the first offenders to be denied under this reasoning. 

The investigation into Harker began after parts of Ms Paterson’s dismembered body were found in a bin liner. The liner had been pushed into a garden hedge. Police officers believe that the 32-year-old mum of four was strangled by Harker in his flat. He bragged that he had cannibalised parts of her body, and ate them with pasta and cheese. Despite telling people of this gruesome act he never then revealed where the rest of her body may be. 

Harker admitted manslaughter on the ground of diminished responsibility and was jailed for life at Teeside Crown Court in February 1999. The judge at the original trial, Mr Justice Bennett, recommended a minimum of 14 years on Harker’s sentence. 

Helen’s Law is named after Helen McCourt. Ms McCourt’s killer was Ian Simms, and he was released from his sentence without ever telling the police the location of her remains. Her Mother Marie McCourt campaigned for five years before the legislation gained Royal Assent in November 2020. Under the ruling, it is harder for prisoners who refuse to disclose a body’s location to get parole, as the Parole Board will legally be required to consider whether they have co-operated fully with inquiries.

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Written by

Claire Gordon