Norma Bell murder trial begins: Man in court accused of killing widowed mother-of-nine

Family approved photo of murder victim Norma Bell. 
Provided by Cleveland Police
Family approved photo of murder victim Norma Bell. Provided by Cleveland Police

A drug user rang adult sex lines three times on the night he killed a devoted foster mother in her own home, a murder trial jury has been told.

Drug user Gareth Dack was short of cash when he murdered the pensioner and set fire to her Hartlepool home to try to cover his tracks, Teesside Crown Court court heard.

The scene at Westbourne Road in Hartlepool following the death of Mrs Bell.

The scene at Westbourne Road in Hartlepool following the death of Mrs Bell.

He is also said to have used her landline to call soft porn TV station Babestation three times during the night she was murdered.

Dack denies murder and arson in a trial at Teesside Crown Court that is expected to last for two weeks.

The prosecution say Norma, a much-loved mother of nine, was murdered sometime overnight at her home in Westbourne Road, Hartlepool, between Saturday, April 2 and Sunday, April 3 last year.

The court heard that on the night she was killed her landline was used three times to call adult chatlines on Babestation.

Forensic team in Westbourne Road, Hartlepool.

Forensic team in Westbourne Road, Hartlepool.

Prosecuting barrister Christopher Tehrani QC said the caller spoke to scantily-clad women on the screen in two of the calls.

Mr Tehrani said: “A recording of these two calls was obtained by police. The caller’s voice was compared to Mr Dack’s voice by an expert in voice analysis who will tell you that in her opinion there is strong support for the proposition that the caller on those last two telephone calls is Gareth Dack.”

Norma’s body was pulled from the house by firefighters at about 8.30am on Sunday, April 3, after reports of smoke coming from the property.

An electric cable was wrapped tightly around her neck.

Family approved photo of murder victim Norma Bell.
Provided by Cleveland Police

Family approved photo of murder victim Norma Bell. Provided by Cleveland Police

Fires had been started deliberately in her bedroom upstairs, which had been the subject of an untidy search, and in a downstairs reception area where Norma’s body was found.

Both blazes caused substantial damage.

Two hobs on a gas cooker had been left on but luckily did not ignite.

The court heard Dack, a childhood friend of one of Norma’s children, was short of cash at the time due to being off work sick, and had been asking to borrow small amounts of money from people.

The scene at Westbourne Road in Hartlepool following the death of Mrs Bell.

The scene at Westbourne Road in Hartlepool following the death of Mrs Bell.

He had borrowed £10 from Norma a week earlier although she was not happy about it and told her family.

The court heard how £700 that Norma was holding on to for one of her children, was missing after her death.

£405 in cash, said by the prosecution, to be part of the money, was later found in Dack’s VW Bora car, which was seen parked in Westbourne Road, near to Norma’s home on the Sunday morning.

The court also heard that Dack stole and sold a new 49-inch plasma TV, belonging to one of her grandsons, to a man for £60 at 10pm on Saturday, April 3.

While there he took cocaine and smoked cannabis, the jury was told.

Samples of Dack’s DNA were found on various items at the address.

Family approved photo of murder victim Norma Bell. 
Provided by Cleveland Police

Family approved photo of murder victim Norma Bell. Provided by Cleveland Police

Three footprints matching Dack’s Nike trainers were found on top of a wheelie bin that had been pushed up against the back gate.

The prosecution say he used the bin to climb over the gate to enter and leave Norma’s house unseen.

A witness reported seeing Dack watching the emergency services activity on the Sunday morning from his parents’ garden further up the street.

Her big button emergency mobile phone was found in Dack’s parents’ garage.

Norma, 79, was a much-loved mother of nine who had lived in her home on Westbourne Road for 27 years and had previously fostered more than 50 children between 1965 and the 90s.

She had lived alone since the death of her husband John in 2010 but her large family were frequent visitors.

Dack was arrested on April 6.

Mr Tehrani said: “The prosecution submits that Gareth Dack is the person who murdered Mrs Bell and then set fire to her house.”

Dack, of Winermere Road, Hartlepool, denies the charges.

The case continues.