Tributes have been paid to a ‘loving and caring’ elderly woman after police launched a murder probe into her death at a home in Hartlepool.
Norma Bell, 79, was found dead at her home in Westbourne Road yesterday morning after police were called to a report of a house fire.
A press conference was held by Cleveland Police this afternoon, during which they confirmed the pensioner died before the fire broke out.
The mum-of-three, who has also been a foster mother to more than 50 children, had lived on the road for 20 years, and would have turned 80 next month.
A tribute released on behalf of her family said: “Our mum was a loving and caring person who lived for her family.
“To lose her in this manner is heartbreaking.
“We would urge anybody with information regarding the death of our mother to come forward and speak to police.
“We also ask for privacy at this sad time to allow us to come to terms with this huge loss.”
Police were called to a report of a house fire at an address on Westbourne Road at about 8.25am yesterday, when the body of Norma was found.
At a press conference held at Cleveland Police Headquarters today, Detective Superintendent Alastair Simpson said: “Our thoughts are with Norma’s family and friends at this incredibly distressing time.
“We now know, following a post mortem examination held yesterday, that Norma died prior to the fire in her home and we have launched a murder investigation.
“Officers are carrying out a number of lines of enquiry including house to house and CCTV enquiries.
“Neighbourhood officers will provide a high-profile presence in the area and will continue patrols to provide some reassurance to those living in the local community.
“Whilst it is too early to say what the motive is or whether the suspect was known to Mrs Bell, I would remind anyone in the local area who may have an elderly or vulnerable relative or neighbour to check on them.
“Check that there is nothing out of the ordinary in relation to them or their property.
“Similarly, I would also remind people not to allow anyone into their home who is not known to them or who purports to be an official from an organisation without first checking their identification.
“If people are unsure then they could call the relevant organisation to check that they do have someone in the area.
“I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to anyone living in the local area who may have seen or heard anything suspicious from late on Saturday evening into Sunday morning in Westbourne Road to contact police.
“Anyone in the area with private CCTV is asked to check it to see if there is anything on there which could be valuable to our investigation and, if so, please contact us.
“If anyone has information that may be linked to this investigation then I urge them to come forward.
“You can do so by calling Cleveland Police on 101 or contacting Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”
There was a heavy police presence in the street in the hours which followed the discovery of the body, as well as a forensics team.
Residents of the street told of their shock at the incident in what is generally thought of as a quiet area.
Kevin Collier, who has lived there for about 30 years, said: “It’s very surprising to see anything like this happen on this street.
“I’ve never known there to be any problems in all the time I’ve lived here.
“The neighbours are all lovely, and this is just not something you’d think would occur.
“You don’t even normally see the police here, never mind a huge presence like there was for this.
“It was definitely a shock to the system for all of us.”