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Fiona Beal: Teacher admits murdering and burying partner in Northampton

Source: BBC

A primary school teacher has admitted murdering her partner whose tied-up body was found buried in their garden.

The partly mummified remains of 42-year-old Nicholas Billingham were found in Northampton in March 2022, four months after he was last seen alive.

A first trial heard that Fiona Beal, 50, used his phone to send messages to his friends and work colleagues, after she had killed him.

Beal has changed her plea to guilty during a retrial at the Old Bailey.

Prosecutor Hugh Davies KC told the retrial Beal stabbed builder Mr Billingham in the neck.

“Promising sex after a bath, she stabbed him in the neck when he was wearing a sleep mask and was probably cabled-tied on their bed,” he said.

Beal had also bought a forged handled utility knife in the days before, the court heard.

He said Beal “wrapped her dead partner up and dragged him down the stairs, destroying the banister rails upstairs in order to do so” and buried him at their home on Moore Street.

Mr Davies told jurors Mr Billingham’s “grave” comprised of concrete that Beal had mixed and a “de facto coffin” made of breeze blocks, timber and sheets.

She had already admitted the lesser charge of manslaughter by reason of loss of control at the beginning of the retrial, which followed a previous trial at Northampton Crown Court last year where the jury was discharged after 10 weeks.

That trial heard that records showed the defendant, who worked at Northampton’s Eastfield Academy as a Year 6 teacher, was absent from work between 1 and 12 November 2021.

Beal messaged several people from Mr Billingham’s phone in early November to say they had both contracted Covid-19 and needed to isolate.

The prosecutor called this “as heartless as it was self-serving”, and said Beal sent messages to her sisters saying she and Mr Billingham had split up.

Prosecutors told jurors the narrative that Mr Billingham had run off with another woman was “completely false”.

Giving evidence in the first trial, Beal said their relationship deteriorated during the first Covid lockdown in 2020.

She said she could not remember much about the killing or the months afterwards, but admitted smoking “quite a lot of cannabis” before Mr Billingham was killed.

The prosecution said police traced Beal to a cabin in Cumbria in March 2022, and a journal was found in which entries “certainly do contain some unambiguously clear declarations of what she had done”.

The journal – which included reference to a “second self” called Tulip22 – had an entry that read: “Hiding a body was bad. Moving a body is much more difficult than it looks on TV.”

Jurors at her first trial were told the notebook contained a claim that Beal had been spat on and threatened during sex, and subjected to cruel and belittling treatment by the deceased.

It can now be reported that the original trial collapsed after a legal mistake, when it emerged Rachel Drummond, a key defence witness, was a court custody officer who had conducted welfare checks on Beal in her cells.

Ms Drummond had given evidence which, in the words of original judge Adrienne Lucking KC, described observing a relationship that had the hallmarks of abuse, although she had not seen Beal for about seven years.

But after Ms Drummond’s employment became known during cross-examination – Judge Lucking said there was no way to “ensure a fair verdict and a safe conviction”.

At the retrial, Judge Mark Lucraft told the defendant: “You have this morning pleaded guilty to murder, which, as you have no doubt been told, carries a sentence of life imprisonment.”

He told Beal, who was tearful as jurors left the courtroom, there would be a two-day sentencing hearing from 29 May.

Det Ch Inspector Adam Pendlebury, of Northamptonshire Police, said: “We are pleased Fiona Beal has now taken the decision to admit she did indeed murder Nick Billingham and hope that it brings the start of some closure to his family who have faced a torrid time for more than two years, including sitting through the original trial in Northampton in 2023.

“Today’s news will have come as a great relief as they await her sentencing next month.”

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