Primary school teacher ‘murdered cheating partner and buried his body in the garden’
A primary school teacher murdered her unfaithful partner and buried his body in the garden after telling the head teacher that she had Covid-19 and needed to self-isolate for 10 days, a court has been told.
Fiona Beal, 49, who was a Year Six teacher at a school in Northampton, is accused of plotting to kill Nicholas Billingham, her long-term partner, after tiring of his repeated infidelity and “cruel and belittling treatment” in 2021.
She allegedly stabbed him through the neck in the bedroom of their home, before hiding his body and telling friends and family that he had left her for another woman.
The 42-year-old’s mummified remains were discovered buried in the garden four and a half months after he was last seen alive.
She was arrested after being discovered at holiday property in Cumbria, where it is alleged she tried to take her own life after leaving a “chilling” note setting out her plans.
Accused ‘worked out plan’
Opening the prosecution case against her at Northampton Crown Court, Steven Perian KC said a notebook discovered following her arrest suggested that Ms Beal had tired of his cheating and had decided to kill him by October 2021.
“Instead of leaving him, she worked out a plan on how and when to kill him, where to conceal his body, how to cover up and explain his disappearance to others and to explain her own absence from work when she killed him,” he said.
Mr Perian told the jury that after killing him, Ms Beal wrapped up his body and buried it in the garden of the terraced property.
It is alleged she then cleaned and painted the bedroom where the murder took place and then used his mobile phone to send messages to his friends, family and work colleagues in an attempt to make them believe he was still alive.
The prosecutor said the evidence suggested the killing had taken place on Nov 1 2021.
Records from the school where she worked showed she had been absent between Nov 1 and Nov 12 after claiming to have tested positive for coronavirus.
The jury was told the head teacher of the school had been in regular contact with her during this period and when she returned to work, she said her partner had left her.
The head contacted police last March after becoming concerned for her welfare when she called in sick but told her family she was away on a residential work course.
She was traced to a lodge near Kendal, in Cumbria, where it is claimed she had made an attempt on her life and had left what prosecutors said “read like a suicide note”.
Ms Beal was initially taken to the local hospital and detained under the Mental Health Act.
But when police recovered a notebook giving a chilling account of how she had planned and then carried out a killing, they went to her Northampton home and discovered a blood-stained mattress in the basement.
When they examined the garden, they discovered “partially wrapped and partially clothed” human remains.
Mr Billingham was identified through dental records. The pathologist said the cause of death had been a single stab wound to the neck.
Ms Beal was subsequently arrested and charged with murder, but denies the accusation.
Partner ‘wore her down’
Reading from the notebook recovered by police, Mr Perian said that while no names were included, police concluded that Ms Beal was referring to Mr Billingham.
The notebook read: “I suppose I ought to explain what happened to get me to this point. My mental health had been deteriorating. Whenever he was cheating he would up the ante on belittling, moaning and criticising.
“I have to confess. Ok here goes. October 2021. He spat on me and threatened me during sex. I thought about leaving but the things he said and did fuelled my dark side – I call her Tulip22, she’s reckless, fearless and efficient. Ruthless.”
It went on: “I knew I couldn’t let him get away with it. Halloween sealed it. He was vile.
“That night I planned. Covid rules meant I had a guaranteed 10-day isolation period from positive symptoms.
“I called [Ms Beal’s head teacher] on the Monday and said we’d tested positive and had symptoms. He went to work. Tulip22 smoked and planned. I’d planned it mentally so many times before.
“I had a bath. I left the water in. I encouraged the bath with the incentive of sex afterwards.
“While he was in the bath I kept the knife in my dressing gown pocket and then hid it in the drawer next to the bed. I brought a chisel, bin bag and cable ties up too.
“I got him to wear an eye mask. It was harder than I thought it would be. Hiding a body was bad. Moving a body is much more difficult than it looks on TV.”
Andrew Wheeler KC, her defence barrister, told the jury that while there was no dispute she had killed Mr Billingham, the case was not a straightforward one – stating that she had been mentally “broken” by the time of the killing.
He said she had been a victim of a coercive relationship and had struggled with her mental health for a number of years.
Suggesting she was guilty of manslaughter rather than murder, Mr Wheeler said: “What was the catalyst that led to these tragic circumstances?
“Her actions and her thoughts were manipulated. He was, as you will hear, psychologically domineering and, over the years, wore her down.
“Over the years, we submit to you, she was worn down until she was quite literally broken.”
The trial continues.