Judge pays tribute to caring Norma Bell as killer is jailed for 33 years

Norma Bell
Norma Bell

A judge has paid tribute to murdered foster carer Norma Bell who looked after more than 50 children, saying she was a “remarkable woman”.

Norma Bell, 79, and her late husband John brought up three sons and six long-term foster children they treated as their own in their Hartlepool home.

Gareth Dack

Gareth Dack

She was strangled there in April last year by Gareth Dack, 33, whom she had known since he was a boy.

Sentencing Dack for murder, Mrs Justice Whipple paid tribute to his 79-year-old victim.

“Norma Bell was truly a remarkable woman,” said the judge. “Throughout her life she put herself out for others, and offered them nothing but kindness, including Gareth Dack.

“She had fostered more than 50 children in her lifetime, and while she lived alone after the death of her husband in 2010, she was far from alone.

“She had her own three sons, their partners and children, and at the time of her death was still in close contact with six of the foster children.

“Norma Bell had an extraordinary ability with children, using that ability she did a vast amount of good in her lifetime.

“One of the foster children said this about his childhood in the Bell household: ‘Life was brilliant growing up with Norma and John. I was a baby when I got put with them, and they spoiled me rotten, they were always there for me’.

“These fragments of evidence are testament to the way Norma Bell touched the lives of so many.”

Another recalled: "Growing up was a wonderful experience. John and Norma were amazing parents."

And a third said she had been bullied for being fostered, but the judge quoted her saying: "My mam told me to be proud of who I was and said I was a chosen child, and I should be proud of that and not ashamed."

A month short of her 80th birthday when she was murdered, Mrs Bell had been in good spirits and health, would walk for miles and was often seen around Hartlepool chatting to people she knew or reading a book on a bench in a spot with a nice view.

"She would go line dancing with friends and had an exercise bike in her home for days when the weather was bad," the judge said.

"One of her children said she was one of the fittest 79-year-olds you would ever meet."

Mrs Justice Whipple added: “The picture is of a very happy, stable, loving family, with Norma Bell at the centre of it.

“Hers was a life lived to the full.”