Primary school teacher stabbed 'cheating' boyfriend to death and buried body in garden, court told

13 March 2023, 15:35 | Updated: 13 March 2023, 16:40

Nicholas Billingham's mummified remains were discovered in March last year
Nicholas Billingham's mummified remains were discovered in March last year. Picture: Social media
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

A primary school teacher who thought her boyfriend was cheating on her stabbed him to death and buried his body in their garden, a court has been told.

Fiona Beal, 49, wrote a "chilling" confession to her boyfriend's killing, describing her "dark side" as ruthless and explaining how she got Nicholas Billingham to wear an eye-mask before murdering him, prosecutors say.

Beal "had decided to kill" Mr Billingham by October 2021, jurors were told, after she wrote in her notebook that he had been cheating on her.

But instead of ending their relationship, Beal planned how and when to kill her boyfriend, where to conceal his body, and how to cover up and explain his disappearance to others, Prosecutor Steven Perian said.

The mummified remains of Mr Billingham, 42, were discovered in March last year, four-and-a-half months after he was last seen at a business meeting.

Beal was found by police in March last year at a lodge near Kendal in Cumbria, after suffering superficial wounds and writing "what read like a suicide note", the court heard.

Beal was then taken to the local hospital and detained under the Mental Health Act. She denies Mr Billingham's murder.

Fiona Beal and Nicholas Billingham
Fiona Beal and Nicholas Billingham. Picture: Social media

Beal was "broken" by the time of the killing, after being subjected to coercive behaviour, her barrister has claimed.

Defence KC Andrew Wheeler told Northampton Crown Court there was no dispute that Fiona Beal unlawfully killed Nicholas Billingham, whose body was found buried in the back garden of their home in March last year.

But he argued that Beal is guilty of manslaughter,not murder.

In an opening address to the jury after the prosecution had outlined its case, Mr Wheeler told the court: "We submit that, in fact, this case is not as straightforward as the prosecution suggest.

"Miss Beal is 49 years of age. She is a lady of good character, a partner to Nick Billingham for some 17 years, a hard-working and a thoroughly liked school teacher... in essence a lady about whom you will hear many good things as you listen to the evidence."

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After allegedly killing Mr Billingham, Beal told her friends that he had left her for another woman to explain his disappearance, prosecutors allege.

Beal is also accused of using Mr Billingham's phone to send messages to his friends and work colleagues to maintain the illusion that he was still alive.

The jury was told Beal's headteacher had been in regular contact with the defendant during her period of "Covid sickness" and that when she returned to work she said her partner had left her, but there were no concerns about her work.

Police also found a notebook, part of which was read to the jury by Mr Perian, and contained a reference to the 1991 film Thelma & Louise.

Nicholas Billingham
Nicholas Billingham. Picture: Handout

It read: "Everything changed last year. There's a quote from 'Thelma and Louise' that feels appropriate, 'Thelma: "You be sweet to them, especially your wife. My husband wasn't sweet to me.'

"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.

"I started plotting as Tulip22 after he'd gone to bed. I could no longer sleep in the bed due to my breathing being too loud or I moved too much or I was snoring or etc etc."

The court heard the notebook entry, which referred to 17 years of "him" being argumentative, mean, cruel and belittling, continued: "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."

She continued: "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."

The trial continues.

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