Jury out in Norma Bell murder case

Norma Bell
Norma Bell

The jury has been sent out to consider its verdicts in the trial of a small-time cocaine dealer accused of murdering a widow who had fostered more than 50 children.

Father-of-four Gareth Dack, 33, denies strangling 79-year-old Norma Bell, whose body was found in her burning home in Hartlepool in April last year.

The prosecution told the jury at Teesside Crown Court that Dack killed Mrs Bell with a cable, stole a boxed TV and £700, and set fire to the terraced house to destroy evidence.

They said he repeatedly used her phone to call sex chatlines as she lay dead or dying.

Dack denies murder and arson, telling the jury he thought Mrs Bell was "a wonderful woman" whom he had known since he was a boy.

Mrs Justice Whipple told the jury: "Please take all the time you need in doing this important job."

Mrs Bell and her late husband John had looked after more than 50 children. They had three children of their own and six long-term foster children they treated as their own.

The jury was sent home and will continue deliberating on Wednesday morning.