Fiona Beal: Teacher who murdered partner and buried him in garden jailed for at least 20 years

A primary school teacher who murdered her boyfriend before burying him in their garden has been jailed for life with a minimum of 20 years.

Fiona Beal, 50, from Northampton, stabbed Nicholas Billingham, 42, to death sometime between October and November 2021.

After previously pleading guilty to the lesser offence of manslaughter by reason of loss of control, Beal last month pleaded guilty to murdering Mr Billingham.

The Old Bailey heard she killed him in "cold blood" before burying his body in their back garden.

Mr Billingham's partly mummified remains were discovered four and a half months after he was last seen on 1 November 2021.

Handing her a life sentence on Thursday, Judge Mark Lucraft KC said: "Having moved and buried the body in the garden you then lied to his mother, numerous friends, all his family and yours as to what you had done and where he was."

'Brutal murder' showed 'extraordinary evil' behind 'kindly facade'

Reading a statement on behalf of Mr Billingham's family outside court, Detective Constable Kim McHugh said: "Our family welcome the lengthy sentence handed down by the court to Fiona Beal for the brutal murder of our son Nick Billingham in November 2021... She has demonstrated extraordinary evil.

"Behind her facade as a kindly schoolteacher, she was secretly planning the cold-blooded killing of Nick.

"Once the deed was done, she went to great lengths to conceal his body, dumping him in an impromptu grave like rubbish, before carrying on with her life as if nothing had happened."

Detective Sergeant Spencer Bailey, from the East Midlands Major Crime Team, said: "This has been an extraordinary case in many ways, and the media interest has perhaps reflected this.

"But our job, both as police officers as well as the wider investigation team, was to ensure Beal was eventually convicted for this most serious of crimes.

"This was a pre-planned, cold-blooded murder, after which Beal tried to cover up her tracks."

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Court heard of affairs and remorse in journal

During the two-day sentencing hearing, Andrew Wheeler KC, defending, told the court Beal had demonstrated "courage" to admit the murder.

The barrister also said Beal expressed "remorse" in journals she wrote, quoting one entry which recorded her reaching "breaking point" and apologising for a host of things.

It was also heard during the trial that Mr Billingham had affairs.

Mr Wheeler said the purpose for examining the evidence relating to Mr Billingham's behaviour was not intended "to speak ill of the dead", but that it was "relevant" to the murder and "does explain how (Beal) came to be broken".

Beal had earlier described Mr Billingham as making "belittling comments" and calling her "old" and "fat".

"To say that what happened eventually...was out of character does not in our submission begin to do it justice," Mr Wheeler told the court.

On the first day of her sentencing hearing, the prosecution read out a letter Mr Billingham wrote to Beal after he had an affair during their 17-year relationship.

In the letter, Mr Billingham accepted his faults and described Beal as "kind hearted", "generous" and "the most beautiful woman in the world".

He wrote: "I promise to never again belittle you or make you feel rubbish again.

"My body, my heart, my love has been yours since the day I met you and will be until the day I die."

'Domestic execution' was 'carefully planned'

On the day of his death, Mr Billingham had worked on a house renovation before returning to the home he shared with Beal in Northampton.

That evening, she killed him in a "carefully planned domestic execution", the prosecution said.

Beal stabbed him in the neck and disposed of the body in a shallow grave at the side of their home like "building waste".

Mr Billingham's mother Yvonne Valentine last month told Sky News how she had visited the couple's home in the days after the killing.

She said: "I walked into the house, in the living room, and the first thing I thought was, 'oh, have you had a turn round of furniture? It all looks different'.

"Fiona offered me a Christmas drink and we sat there... but it always gets to me, because I think Nick was buried in the garden, just a few feet away and I didn't know he was there."

In a victim impact statement, Ms Valentine branded Beal a "coward" and "exceptionally evil and cruel" to send her messages from her son's phone to convince her he was safe and well.

Cabin holiday led to alter ego discovery

In February 2022, Beal had been signed off work with anxiety, stress, depression and low mood.

The following month, she rented a cabin in Cumbria and sent messages to family members which gave them cause for concern over her wellbeing, prompting them to call police to check on her.

In the cabin, police found Beal's journals containing a confession to the killing.

They also included references to her having a split personality and an alter ego she called Tulip 22.

She also described how during the murder she told Mr Billingham she was killing him so he couldn't do to another woman "what he had done to me".

The journals triggered a police investigation and Beal was arrested in March 2022 after Mr Billingham's body was discovered.