Grandmother's family make plea to find killer

The daughters of a frail widow who was found strangled in bed before her home was set on fire in an attempt to hide evidence today appealed for the public's help in catching their mother's killer.

Ann Szary and Catherine Howard spoke out after 85-year-old Pat Thompson was found dead in bed in her burning bungalow by the fire service on Saturday night.

"Our mum was always so full of life and she was loved by everyone who knew her," Mrs Szary told reporters at a press conference at Cleveland Police HQ in Middlesbrough..

"We'll truly miss her, she was the centre of our family. We can't understand why anybody would want to hurt her; our lives will never be the same without her.

"She was frail and vulnerable and the thought of her frightened, defenceless and alone in her last moments is the most difficult part.

"This has distressed all of our family, our children have suffered the loss of a gentle loving grandma in such a terribly shocking and violent way.

"There was no need for mum's death. She was such a generous person that if asked for money she would have given twice the amount if she could.

"If anyone has any information to help the investigation, please come forward."

Mrs Szary was accompanied by her sister Mrs Howard, who added: "They need to be caught.

"It's so terribly sad that there is somebody like that around. Other people need to be protected from him."

A neighbour at Emma Simpson Court, Hartburn, near Stockton on Tees, alerted the emergency services having seen smoke coming from Mrs Thompson's home.

Police were today still trying to establish the motive for the widow's death - describing the killing as a horrendous.

Detective Superintendent Gordon Lang, who is leading the investigation, said: "This is a brutal murder that has shocked and saddened the local community.

"The person responsible for this cowardly attack on a defenceless elderly lady needs to be caught and we are doing everything we can to find him.

"Pat has been described as a lovely lady and no one can understand why anyone would want to hurt her.

"The last few moments of her life must have been absolutely terrifying and I would appeal again to members of the local community to think back to Saturday night - did they see or hear anything suspicious around Emma Simpson Court?"

Mr Lang said he could not rule out that Mrs Thompson knew her killer, as she was known to leave her back door unlocked - although when the fire service arrived the bungalow was secure.

"Certainly this is something we can't rule out. We are keeping an open mind as to what the motive could be," Mr Lang said.

"Who could possibly want to attack an 85-year-old lady? Frail, vulnerable, it's dark, she's alone. Who could possibly want to kill her?

"We've had a small insight into Pat from her daughters. This lady did not have enemies, she had friends and she was a very, very popular member of the church and the local community.

"She always had a 'hello' and a smile and she was a real star within that small community."

Mr Lang said fires had been started in Mrs Thompson's bedroom and lounge.

"The motive as to why someone was in there, I wouldn't speculate but without a doubt this evil person is trying to cover their tracks," Mr Lang said.

"We now have a specialist team in place and forensic work is ongoing to establish if anything is missing from the property and to piece together the tragic circumstances of how Pat has died.

"We are following a number of leads but our enquiries remain focused on the property at Emma Simpson Court and I would urge anyone who may have seen anything, however insignificant they may think it is, to come forward and contact us."

Mrs Thompson had two daughters, a son - who pre-deceased her - and six grandchildren.

The retired school classroom assistant had lived at Emma Simpson Court for nine years following the death of her husband.

The widow was last known to be alive when her daughter Catherine Howard telephoned her at around 9pm on the Saturday night. A neighbour had seen her earlier in the evening on her doorstep.

"The gap between the last sighting and these terrible events is very important to us and we want to fill as much of that as possible," said Mr Lang.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the incident room on 01642 301615.