A senior police officer in the murder case of Norma Bell has said Gareth Dack ‘preyed’ on the pensioner’s caring nature and murdered her for personal gain.
Dack, who strangled Mrs Bell in her home and called sex chat-lines from her phone, is facing a life sentence after being convicted of murder and arson at Teesside Crown Court.
In a statement, senior investigating officer chief superintendent Alastair Simpson said: “On Sunday, April 3, 2016, police launched a murder investigation following the discovery that Norma Bell had been strangled and her house had been set on fire in a callous attack.
“Norma would have celebrated her 80th birthday the following month and had lived in her home on Westbourne Road for 27 years. Norma was a mother to nine children.
“Her family describe her as a ‘loving and caring woman who was full of life’.
“Gareth Dack preyed on Norma’s caring nature and murdered her for his personal gain before trying to cover his tracks by setting fire to her home.”
Norma was a much-loved mother-of-nine from Hartlepool, who had fostered more than 50 children with her late husband John.
The 33-year-old father-of-four had started fires in Mrs Bell’s terraced home last April and turned on the gas, hoping to cause an explosion to destroy the evidence.
Chief superintendent Simpson continued: “I’d like to acknowledge the bravery of Norma’s family throughout this trial and thank them for their cooperation during the investigation.
“I’d also like to thank the witnesses that came forward with information that led us to the recovery of important evidence, such as the recovery of Norma’s stolen television.
“Finally, I’d like to thank the investigation team, including colleagues from around the country, who worked tirelessly to bring Gareth Dack to justice as well as the Crown Prosecution Service and prosecuting counsel for support throughout.
“During the criminal justice process Gareth Dack refused to take any responsibility for his actions. “Thankfully, he will now be held to account for his crime. “Nothing will bring Norma back to her family, however, I hope that his conviction brings some form of comfort to them.”
John Dilworth, deputy chief crown prosecutor for CPS North East, also hopes the conviction will provide the family with a measure of closure.
In a statement he said: “Norma Bell was a woman of generous character.
“Over the course of her life, she had provided foster care to more than 50 babies and toddlers.
“When Gareth Dack asked to borrow money in the week prior to Norma’s death, she kindly assisted him with a loan of twenty pounds. “He repaid that kindness by returning later to take her life, looting her home for financial gain.
“After the killing, Mr Dack crudely attempted to hide what he had done by trying to set fire to her home.
“It is a small mercy that this act in itself did not cause further harm to those living nearby.”
He continued: “This has been a complex and difficult case but with the assistance of an excellent police investigation we have painstakingly pieced together the events around Norma’s death, proving beyond reasonable doubt that Gareth Dack was the person responsible.
“I would hope today’s conviction brings a measure of closure for the many people who knew and loved Norma Bell.
“Our thoughts are very much with them at what must be a very difficult time.”