The murderer of Norma Bell will spend a minimum of 33 years in prison for the ‘brutal and savage’ killing of the 79-year-old widow.
Gareth Dack was given the mandatory life sentence by Mrs Justice Whipple at Teesside Crown Court for murdering Mrs Bell and setting fire to her house.
“This must have been a truly terrifying ordeal for Norma Bell,” said the judge.
“Norma Bell was elderly and alone in her home, you would have overpowered her with ease and you brutally murdered her, it was a savage act.
“We cannot know precisely when you did it, but you killed her by strangulation, first with hand pressure then with a mobile phone cord.
“You knelt on her and used extreme violence against her, it was a terrible crime.”
During Dack’s trial, the court heard Mrs Bell’s lower clothing was cut by Dack, possibly in an attempt to remove it.
“One of the most troubling aspects about what you did that night is your attempt to cut Norma Bell’s trousers and under-clothes off her with a knife, leaving her exposed,” said Justice Whipple.
“The expert evidence suggested that you were not able to cut further because the trouser zip stopped you.
“I will not speculate about why you did this, but it was a depraved act which robbed Norma Bell of her dignity.
“We cannot know at what time you did this, or whether Norma Bell was alive or dead at the time.”
Justice Whipple described how cocaine addict Dack continued his ‘drug-fuelled rampage’ of her house by ransacking it, and stealing cash, a television, and a mobile phone.
“While at her house you did what you had done before with your friends while taking drugs,” said the judge. “You called Babestation, a pornographic television channel.
“You like viewing pornography, you stored hard and soft core images on your phones.”
Dack set fire to Mrs Bell’s home before leaving by the back yard.
“The fire was a failed attempt to destroy evidence,” said the judge.”After arrest you refused to co-operate with the police, and your continued silence means Mrs Bell’s family do not know how she spent her last hours.
“That is terrible for them, and it is the last unkindness you do them.
“You will not acknowledge your act, or show any remorse, or tell them what happened.”
Dack, 33, of Windermere Road, Hartlepool, denied murder and arson at Mrs Bell’s home in Westboune Road, Hartlepool, between April 2 and April 3, last year.
He was convicted of both offences after a trial lasting just under three weeks.
Ordering Dack to stand, the judge told him: “I sentence you to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 33 years.”
Dack was given nine years to be served at the same time for the arson.
Detective Chief Superintendent Alastair Simpson of Cleveland Police, who led the murder inquiry, said he was ‘delighted’ with the sentence.
“I have spoken to Mrs Bell’s family,” he added. “They are pleased with the sentence, and they are particularly pleased with the judge’s comments which accurately reflected what Gareth Dack did.
“He will deservedly spend at least the next 33 years of his life in prison.
“But Norma Bell is gone forever.
“I hope the conclusion of the case will bring some closure to the family.”
The detective added: “Dack’s silence, which he had every right to maintain, made this a long and difficult investigation.
“When he did speak, he kept changing his story for his own ends.
“His silence concerning the death of Mrs Bell leaves many questions unanswered.”
Trial judge Mrs Justice Whipple paid tribute to the investigation, saying police had ‘painstakingly gathered overwhelming evidence’ against Dack.