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Dealer must serve at least 33 years for 'depraved' murder of mother-of-nine

A depraved cocaine user who strangled a widowed foster mother in her home was guilty of a "savage act" and must serve at least 33 years in jail, a judge has said.

Gareth Dack was branded "perverted and disgusting" by Mrs Justice Whipple as she sentenced him for the murder of 79-year-old mother-of-nine Norma Bell.

He attacked her, cut her clothing to expose her pubic area and called sex chat lines from her phone as she lay dead or dying.

Dack then tried to set fire to her terraced home in Hartlepool last April in a failed attempt to destroy the evidence.

The father-of-four was jailed for life following a three-week trial at Teesside Crown Court.

Sentencing, the trial judge 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."

He was a drug user, heavily in debt and had pressured her to lend him £10 the week before.

Mrs Justice Whipple said: "You strangled her using your bare hands first and then using a phone charger cable.

"This must have been a truly terrifying ordeal for Norma Bell. She was elderly and alone in her home.

"You would have overpowered her with ease.

"You brutally murdered her.

"You knelt on her and used extreme violence against her. You committed a terrible crime."

Dack stole £700 and a boxed 49 inch TV which he sold that night, then returned after taking cocaine and cannabis and ransacked her home in a "drug-fuelled rampage", the judge said.

One of the most troubling aspects of the case was Dack cutting her knickers, leaving her exposed.

"It was a depraved act. You robbed Norma Bell of her dignity."

The judge said there could have been "dreadful consequences" if Dack had succeeded in blowing up the house. The jury also convicted him of arson.

The judge said: "This was a savage act of murder by strangulation."

The crime was aggravated by the facts that 5ft Mrs Bell was alone and vulnerable; he betrayed a family friendship; the "disgusting and perverted act" of cutting her clothes and the attempt to burn down her house.

Peter Makepeace QC, defending, submitted written mitigation that Dack was still only 33, a family man and had no relevant previous convictions.

Mrs Bell and her late husband John had three sons and were parents to six long-term foster children they considered their own.

A family statement said she had a "heart as big as a lion", adding: "Her murder has left an enormous gap in our lives and forgiveness will never be given."

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