Drug dealer faces life sentence for murdering former foster mother

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A small-time cocaine dealer who murdered a much-loved former foster mother and set her home on fire will be jailed for life today.

Gareth Dack, 33, strangled widow Norma Bell with a cable, ransacked her home and even called sex lines from her landline as she lay dead or dying.

He denied killing Mrs Bell, who with her late husband John fostered more than 50 children, but was convicted of murder and arson following a three-week trial at Teesside Crown Court.

A member of the public spotted smoke coming from her Hartlepool home early on April 3, as Dack had made a failed attempt to blow the property up to cover his tracks.

The family of his 79-year-old victim paid tribute to her after Dack was convicted, saying she had a "heart as big as a lion".

The couple had three sons, and raised another six children as their own, and she was a grandmother of 12.

Her family said she dedicated her adult life to fostering, "looking after children in need, giving them a home, love and a little hope".

They 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 Chief Superintendent Alastair Simpson said: "During the criminal justice process, Gareth Dack refused to take any responsibility for his actions.

"Thankfully, he will now be held to account for his crime."

Mrs Justice Whipple will impose a life sentence and set a minimum term Dack must serve before he can be considered for parole.