Norma Bell death: Accused 'tried to start gas explosion'

Norma Bell Image copyright Family photograph
Image caption Grandmother Norma Bell had also fostered more than 50 children

A man accused of murdering a woman who fostered more than 50 children hoped to destroy evidence in a gas explosion, a court has heard.

The body of Norma Bell, 79, was found in her burned-out home in Westbourne Road, Hartlepool in April.

Teesside Crown Court heard Gareth Dack, 33, set several fires and turned on a gas hob in the hope a resulting explosion would cover his tracks.

Mr Dack, of Windermere Road in the town, has denied murder and arson.

The court was told Mr Dack used electrical cable to strangle Mrs Bell, a widow, and then used her phone to call sex chat lines.

Image caption Mrs Bell was found in her burned out home in Hartlepool in April

Christopher Tehrani QC, prosecuting, said the accused then started a number of fires and left the gas hob on in the kitchen, but the fumes did not ignite.

He added: "When he decided to leave the premise one final time, we suggest he decided to cover his tracks by setting fire to the house.

"For good measure he turned the gas on at the hob, no doubt hoping the gas would ignite and cause an explosion destroying any scientific evidence that he believed he may have left behind.

"Fortunately, the gas did not collect to the point it became combustible."

The jury heard Mr Dack told police that his DNA was in the property because he had "done some work for Norma".

The court was told Mrs Bell and her husband fostered more than 50 babies and toddlers during a 35-year period and had three children of their own.

The trial continues.

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