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13 January 2015, 18:26 | Updated: 30 March 2016, 13:50
A heroin addict from Middlesbrough who preyed on a vulnerable mother-of-two set fire to her bed and murdered her to cover up a break-in, a court has heard.
Disabled Teresa Ryan had been out celebrating her 50th birthday with her two sons on the night she died from smoke inhalation at her Middlesbrough home in July.
David McCabe, 32, of Barrington Crescent, Middlesbrough, admits burgling her home on the day before she died, and again on that night, but denies her murder.
Teesside Crown Court heard how McCabe called the Huntington's Disease sufferer ``Wobbly'' and this nickname may have been used by other locals.
Andrew Robertson QC, prosecuting, said:
``This defendant is a heroin addict. He was constantly in need of money to fuel his habit."
``Teresa Ryan was a 50-year-old single woman living in her terraced house in North Ormesby. She suffered from a condition known as Huntingdon's Disease which affected her both physically and mentally."
``She had difficulty communicating, she was unsteady on her feet and as such she was very vulnerable and this defendant came to see her as an easy means of funding his habit.''
Having burgled her the day before and taken her television which he sold for £25 and six heroin-substitute tablets, McCabe was seen loitering outside her house while she was out for her birthday, Mr Robertson said.
He sneaked into her house from the back alley and then struggled with her when he grabbed her handbag, causing both ends of the strap to break away, the jury heard.
Miss Ryan was rendered unconscious by the struggle or in a fall, the court heard.
``The defendant had got what he wanted - her handbag - but he realised he was in trouble.
``When she came to, she would be able to identify him."
``This was not just a burglary, it was a robbery of a vulnerable woman in her own home and we say that the defendant decided to do his best to eradicate any evidence of what he had done.''
After she fell unconscious, McCabe placed her on a sofa in the living room and set fire to her bed which was in the dining room, the prosecution alleged.
He admits stealing her handbag, mobile phone money and cigarettes in the second burglary, having originally denied both break-ins, the court heard.
McCabe had overdosed on the heroin tablets he was paid for her stolen television the day before, the jury was told.
After his release from hospital, he was craving more drugs and in withdrawal in the hours leading up to the murder, Mr Robertson said.
Miss Ryan returned home at 9.50pm that night and by 10.23pm the addict had stolen her phone and was using it to try to get heroin.
An hour later a smoke alarm was sounding at her property and the emergency services were called.
Mr Robertson said the defence will state that McCabe snatched the handbag from her kitchen and that he ran off when Miss Ryan came out of the toilet.
The prosecution said:
``He thus denies that there was any physical confrontation with the deceased and maintains that the fire must have been started accidentally.''
``He will make reference to the fact that several years ago apparently Teresa Ryan started a fire accidentally in her own home.''
The trial is expected to last eight days.