Primary school teacher admits manslaughter of partner whose body was found tied-up and buried in garden

19 April 2024, 16:00 | Updated: 19 April 2024, 16:02

Fiona Beal admitted manslaughter on Friday.
Fiona Beal admitted manslaughter on Friday. Picture: Northamptonshire Police

By Jenny Medlicott

A primary school teacher has pleaded guilty to manslaughter after the body of her tied-up partner was found buried in their garden.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

The body of Nicholas Billingham, 42, was found at a home in Moore Street, Northampton in March 2022.

His partly-mummified remains were found four and a half months after he was last seen.

Speaking at the Old Bailey on Friday, his girlfriend Fiona Beal, 50, admitted the lesser charge of manslaughter.

She denied the murder of Mr Billingham between October 30 and November 10, 2021.

Opening her trial, prosecutor Hugh Davies KC said: "There is no dispute that she killed Nick Billingham, concealed his body where it was found and acted alone throughout. There is no dispute that she intended to kill him.

"She has accepted that she is guilty of the lesser offence of manslaughter. She has pleaded guilty to that offence. She does not accept she is guilty of murder. Her defence is based on a so-called partial defence to murder."

Beal was arrested in March 2022 after forensic officers and specialist search teams were deployed to an address in Northampton, where they discovered Mr Billingham's body.

She had messaged several people on 1 November 2021 saying that she and her partner had contracted Covid and needed to isolate.

Read more: Man jailed for six years for dragging 15-year-old girl into the sea off Bournemouth beach and raping her

Read more: 'Life and death mix-up' Family's grief after former nurse died in A&E after staff read wrong 'Do Not Resuscitate' order

Fiona Beal has denied murdered.
Fiona Beal has denied murdered. Picture: Northamptonshire police

Similar messages had also been sent from Mr Billingham's phone, the court heard.

On 8 November, Beal later messaged her sisters that she and Mr Billingham had split up, claiming in one message that he had left because of an affair he had with another woman.

Prosecution told court the claim that he had an affair was "completely false".

Beal returned to work "fully discharging her considerable responsibilities as a teacher to Year 6 pupils" and even received a "sympathetic response" from those who had heard about her break-up.

Mr Davies told jurors the messages from Mr Billingham's phone was Beal "pretending to be him" in a move that was "as heartless as it was self-serving".

The court was told that the primary school teacher had confessed to the killing by writing in her journal, which was later found by police.

Beal, who was described in court as a "high-functioning professional", had purchased a forged handle utility knife just days before, according to the prosecution.

The body of Nicholas Billingham was found in their garden.
The body of Nicholas Billingham was found in their garden. Picture: Northamptonshire Police
Forensic teams were called to their home in Northampton.
Forensic teams were called to their home in Northampton. Picture: Alamy

She had also been in possession of a chisel and cable ties.

Mr Davies said of the journals police found: "They certainly do contain some unambiguously clear declarations of what she had done. These parts were not just her truth, but the truth. What was this?

"The short answer is that she had planned to, and had, killed him in cold blood. She had purchased a forged handled utility knife in the days before. She had a chisel and cable ties.

"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 continued: "Stated shortly, in all these documents Fiona Beal introduces themes of her having been controlled and manipulated in the relationship; of her insecurities having been exaggerated rather than helped by his attitude; of unpleasant things he had done…and this explaining why she killed him as she did.

"She introduces her insight into her own split personality, and an alter ego" i.e. her "second self" she calls Tulip 22, who is capable of wholly different and darker conduct than her public persona of committed teacher."

One entry also said: "Still my actions haunt me. I sometimes have to catch myself and remember what I did and then remember my cover story - neither seem convincing".

Beal later wrapped her dead partner up, dragged him down the stairs and buried him in the garden.

The trial continues.