Norma Bell murder trial: Alleged killer’s DNA found on match and gas cooker at home Hartlepool murder victim

Gareth Dack
Gareth Dack

An alleged murderer’s DNA was found on a gas cooker and a used match at the scene of a widow’s death, a jury heard.

A forensic scientist told Teesside Crown Court the chance of the forensic fingerprint not being that of Gareth Dack, on trial for the murder of 79-year-old Norma Bell, was one in a billion.

Murder victim Norma Bell.

Murder victim Norma Bell.

DNA samples from Dack, of the same high probability, were also recovered by investigators on the inside of a door handle and on two mobile phones in Norma’s home in Westbourne Road, Hartlepool.

Dack is accused of strangling Mrs Bell with a telephone cable and setting the house on fire.

He is alleged to have left the gas cooker on in an attempt to cause an explosion to destroy the evidence.

Forensic scientist Dr Gemma Escott gave evidence during the third day of the trial.

She told how DNA attributable to Dack was found on a number of items and objects tested.

Strong samples were recovered from the inside handle of a door leading from a utility room to the back yard, a spent match in the kitchen, two old-style mobile telephones belonging to Mrs Bell, and a control hob on the gas cooker which was on when firefighters responded to the fire.

Regarding the DNA sample taken from the door handle which was compared to one provided by Dack after his arrest, Dr Escott said: “The probability of obtaining the same matching DNA profile if it originated from someone other than and unrelated to Gareth Dack is in the order of one in a billion.”
Dr Escott said it was not possible to say when the DNA was left on the handle.

A swab was taken of the far left control knob of the gas hob cooker.

Dr Escott said the chance of it not belonging to Dack was one in a billion.

The court also heard how weaker DNA samples, part of which were attributable to Dack, were also found on the inside of a handbag and briefcase in Mrs Bell’s bedroom, the cable used to strangle her and on Mrs Bell’s underwear.

Dr Escott said as many of the samples also contained the DNA profiles of up to three other people, it could not be subjected to the same statistical tests.

She said most of the DNA retrieved from the briefcase belonged to Mrs Bell, while that of at least two other people was also present.

The prosecution claim, Dack, a drug user, who was short of money, searched through Mrs Bell’s belongings looking for anything of value to steal.

Dr Escott said: “In my opinion, a significant proportion of this additional DNA could be accounted for by the presence of DNA from Gareth Dack.

DNA tests were also carried out on Mrs Bell’s underwear which was found to have been cut with some sort of blade along with her tights.

Dr Escott said: “DNA that can be attributed to Gareth Dack was also present alongside that of other individuals.”
The jury was told there was no evidence Mrs Bell had been the victim of a sexual assault.

Dack accepts being in Mrs Bell’s house but claims he had done odd jobs for her.

Dr Escott said presence of DNA at the scene could mean many things including someone being present when a crime was committed or being there when it was not.

She added DNA can also be transferred indirectly via contact with a third party.

Mrs Bell, a mother of nine, was found dead after the fire brigade responded to reports of a fire early on Sunday, April 3 last year.

She had fostered in excess of 50 babies and toddlers with her late husband John after answering an advert in 1965.

Mrs Bell previously worked on the trams in Hartlepool, and was an accomplished book keeper.

Despite her age she was fit and enjoyed line dancing, attending weekly classes.

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

The trial continues.

Fire investigators’ findings

Fire investigators estimated two fires started in Mrs Bell’s home had been burning for up to an hour before being reported.

A report into the cause of the fire was read to the jury yesterday morning.

Read by junior prosecuting counsel, Rachel Masters, she said fires started in a downstairs reception room and in Mrs Bell’s bedroom were found to be arson.

The fire downstairs was started on a sofa close to where Mrs Bell was found.

She was declared dead after being carried into an ambulance outside at about 8.30am on April 3 last year.

Miss Masters said: “The cause of the fires was determined to be deliberate ignition by the presence of lit materials in the rear reception room and on the bed in Norma Bell’s bedroom.

“It is estimated the time from ignition to the fire brigade being called was 30 to 60 minutes.”
The report said the flames from the sofa fire had risen to half the height of the room and caused widespread smoke damage, and part of the ceiling to collapse.

The fire brigade were called at 8.22am by a dog walker after seeing smoke, and the fire brigade arrived within minutes.

They had to break their way into the house by the front door which was found to have been locked from the inside with the key still inside the lock.

Although gas from two hobs on the cooker were still on, it had not built to a level where it was explosive.

Miss Masters added: “Had the gas that had been escaping into the house from the hob blown up to the extent that it reached an explosive mix, the fire and structural damage to [the house] would have been significantly worse.”