Norma Bell death: Gareth Dack to serve 33 years in jail

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Media captionNorma Bell murder: Gareth Dack jailed for life

A cocaine addict who strangled a foster mother and then tried to cause an explosion to hide evidence has been jailed for a minimum of 33 years.

Norma Bell, 79, who had fostered more than 50 children, was found in her burning home in Westbourne Road, Hartlepool, in April.

Gareth Dack, 33, was found guilty of murder and arson at Teesside Crown Court on Wednesday.

Mrs Justice Whipple said Dack killed "a defenceless woman in cold blood".

Image copyright Cleveland Police
Image caption Gareth Dack declined to answer police questions

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A jury heard Dack, of Windermere Road, Hartlepool and who denied the charges, ransacked Mrs Bell's home, stole a boxed TV and £700, and used her phone to call sex chat lines.

The father-of-four, who had borrowed £10 from his victim the weekend before, claimed he was not responsible and described Mrs Bell a "wonderful woman" in court.

But DNA matches were found inside the property.

Image copyright Cleveland Police
Image caption Dack set fire to Mrs Bell's home to destroy evidence of his crime

Sentencing Dack, Mrs Justice Whipple said: "You killed Norma Bell in cold blood in her own home when she was defenceless.

"She had done nothing to deserve your violence, then you set fire to her home in a failed attempt to cover your tracks."

The three-week trial heard Dack considered the widow, who lost her husband in 2010, to be a "soft touch".

Mrs Bell's family said she had a "heart as big as a lion" and had dedicated her adult life to fostering.

She and her late husband John had three sons, raised another six children as their own, and had 12 grandchildren.

In a statement the family said: "Gareth Dack brutally murdered our mother in the place she should have been safest and then burnt out the family home, destroying everything she had for a few quid to feed his drug habit and his actions have left us all in pieces."

Senior investigating officer Ch Supt Alastair Simpson of Cleveland Police, said Dack had refused to take any responsibility for his actions.

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