Murder investigation underway after woman (79) found dead after house fire
A murder investigation has been launched after a 79-year-old woman was found dead in her home following a report of a house fire.
Mother-of-three Norma Bell, who also cared for more than 50 foster children, was due to celebrate her 80th birthday next month.
Police confirmed Ms Bell had died before the fire began at her house in Hartlepool, where she had lived for 27 years.
Announcing the investigation, Cleveland Police appealed for anyone who might have seen something or anyone with private CCTV to come forward.
Described by her family as "a loving and caring person", a statement said: "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.
"We also ask for privacy at this sad time to allow us to come to terms with this huge loss."
Police were called to the house fire on Westbourne Road at around 8.25am on Sunday morning.
Detective Superintendent Alastair Simpson said: "Our thoughts are with Norma's family and friends at this incredibly distressing time.
"We now know, following a post mortem examination held yesterday, 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. Neighbourhood officers will provide a high profile presence in the area and will continue patrols to provide some reassurance to those living in the local community.
"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. Check that there is nothing out of the ordinary in relation to them or their property."