Norma Bell death: Murder probe after foster mother's body found in fire-gutted house

Norma Bell Image copyright Cleveland Police
Image caption Norma Bell had been a foster mother to more than 50 children, police said

A woman whose body was found after a house fire in Hartlepool was murdered, police say.

The body of 79-year-old Norma Bell was discovered inside the house in Westbourne Road on Sunday morning.

Police said Mrs Bell, who had been a foster parent to more than 50 children and would have turned 80 next month, died before the fire started.

Her family described her as "loving and caring", adding that the manner of her death was "heartbreaking".

Image caption Floral tributes have been left outside the home of Norma Bell

Det Supt Alastair Simpson of Cleveland Police, said: "We now know, following a post-mortem examination, 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 inquiry including house to house and CCTV inquiries.

"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.

"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."

Image caption Emergency services were called to Westbourne Road on Sunday morning

A statement from Mrs Bell's 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."

Mrs Bell had lived alone in the property since the death of her husband in 2010.

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