Norma Bell murder: 'She was alive and well when I left' says man accused of killing her

Gareth Dack claimed Norma Bell was alive and well when he left her.
Gareth Dack claimed Norma Bell was alive and well when he left her.

The man accused of murdering Hartlepool woman Norma Bell told a jury she was alive and well when he last saw her.

The body of the 79-year-old was pulled from her blazing home by firefighters at about 8.40am on Sunday, April 2 last year.

Dack said he was dealing drugs from his parents' garage on the night Norma Bell died.

Dack said he was dealing drugs from his parents' garage on the night Norma Bell died.

Gareth Dack said he was in Mrs Bell's house in Westbourne Road, Hartlepool, the night before.

"She was alive and well when I left," he said. "I went out the front way and back to my parents' garage."

The court heard Dack claimed he spent Saturday night into Sunday morning dealing cocaine from his parents' garage, which was in the same street as Mrs Bell's home.

He said he wouldn't name three or four people he sold drugs to, even though it was pointed out to him they could provide him with an alibi.

"I'm not dragging other people into this who don't need to be," said Dack. "The press and the police are in court, and I know how they work.

"I don't need an alibi because I haven't committed the offence."

Dack named Michael Gales as a man who he had met that night, and who had 'put the word about' that drugs were for sale.

Prosecutor Christopher Tehrani QC told Dack that Gales had been in the press in the last week as a defendant in another case who had skipped bail.

"He's believed to be in Spain," said Mr Tehrani. "Is that why you are prepared to name him, because you know the police cannot contact him to check your story?"

"Did someone in prison show you the local newspaper?"

Dack replied: "I don't read the papers, and I've not seen anyone in prison.

"I gave his name because he's done nothing illegal just by telling other people I had drugs to sell."

A new boxed TV which was in Mrs Bell's house was later traced to Dack via the man he sold it to.

"I bought the television from a lad who walked past the garage," said Dack. "I don't know his name, he was just a lad, but he's the one you should be looking for for the murder.

"The television was on my parents' drive when I opened the corner of the box to check it was a TV and not just a box of bricks."

Mr Tehrani pointed out to Dack that witnesses said the box was opened at the address of the person he sold it to.

"I only opened the corner," said Dack. "Then I sealed it again, it was Sellotape, it's not one use only."

The court heard Dack's DNA was found in various places in Mrs Bell's house, including on matches on a worktop, on the cooker, and on a portable gas fire.

"Norma asked me to light the fire for her when I was in there on Saturday night," said Dack. "It wouldn't light on its own, so I tried a match, but that wouldn't work.

"I then got a piece of paper and lit it from the cooker to make a bigger flame."

Mr Tehrani reminded the jury Mrs Bell's relations said she had not used the portable gas fire since 2010 because two new fixed fires had been fitted with igniters she could operate.

Dack said DNA traces on Mrs Bell's briefcase was 'secondary and tertiary' and forensic experts said it was not definitely his.

The court heard several calls were made to the soft porn channel Babestation from Mrs Bell's landline telephone.

Mr Tehrani told the jury a known side effect of taking cocaine was to increase libido, and Andrew Craig, one of Dack's drug-taking friends, said they would often put pornography on the television after taking drugs.

"I was there when it was on," said Dack. "But I didn't put it on.

"Cocaine doesn't have that effect on me, and I didn't make any calls to Babestation.

"The voice expert said it could have been me, or it could have been anyone in the North East, which is a big place."

Dack, 33, of Windemere Road, Hartlepool, denies murder, and arson being reckless as to whether life would be endangered.

Proceeding.