Murder trial teacher claims only memory of garden burial is ‘dragging sensation’

A primary school teacher who killed her long-term partner has told jurors her only memories of burying his remains are “a dragging sensation” and “seeing what would have been the body wrapped in the dining room”.

Fiona Beal denies murdering Nicholas Billingham in November 2021, claiming her “broken” mental state means she is guilty of the lesser offence of manslaughter.

The Crown alleges Beal, 49, of Moore Street, Northampton, hid a knife in a bedside drawer and got Mr Billingham to wear an eye mask before stabbing him in the neck in their bedroom.

Fiona Beal court case
A picture of Fiona Beal seen by the trial jury (Northamptonshire Police/PA)

Giving evidence at the town’s Crown Court on Tuesday, Beal claimed her relationship with 42-year-old Mr Billingham, who she had taken back after he had an affair, quickly deteriorated during the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020.

She also said allegations that she had suffered emotional abuse and sexually demeaning behaviour – made by her in written documents found after her arrest – were accurate.

Beal, who began her evidence on April 28, was asked if she had any memory of how Mr Billingham came to be found buried underneath carpet, bark chippings, soil, concrete building blocks, bricks and planks in March 2022.

The Year Six teacher answered: “I remember feeling a dragging sensation that I was dragging something. I remember seeing what would have been the body wrapped in the dining room.

“But after that, no… not really much more.”

The jury have been told that plastic bags, rubble, mortar, polystyrene, laminate flooring, and sections of fabric and vinyl were also recovered from a “built structure” hiding the body of Mr Billingham.

Invited by defence barrister Andrew Wheeler KC to tell the court if she could recall anything about stabbing her partner, Beal stated: “No – I thought that I had hit him over the head and that it happened in the bath.”

Mr Wheeler then asked: “What’s the next memory that you can recall?”

Beal replied: “That I was sat by the back door wrapped in a blanket and I had a cut on my head.”

Telling jurors she had no idea of how long she was sitting by the door, Beal continued: “I think it was for longer than a day. There had been a day and a night. I am not sure.”

Beal, who says she does not remember “much at all” about the killing or the following months, alleged she was “forced” into a sex act by Mr Billingham in October 2021, leaving her feeling she was “at risk of physical sexual harm”.

Describing how she returned to work and took pupils on a school trip to the Royal Opera House in London in February 2022, Beal was asked if she herself could believe that Mr Billingham was dead.

She responded: “No. Sometimes I actually did believe that he had left. It was like a sort of discussion in my head.”

Body found in Northampton garden
Nicholas Billingham (Northamptonshire Police/PA)

Beal, who said the school trip went very well, told the jury: “It was only for my class, who were Year Six. Some of them had challenging behaviour but that day they were well behaved.

“It was the first trip that they had had since Covid. They had been really looking forward to it and I was the one organising it.

“It was as if I had managed to do that and that took the last out of me. I didn’t feel I could go any further. The trip was on a Thursday. I went into school on the Friday and that was the last time I went in.

“I didn’t have the energy to carry on. Everything just sort of caught up with me and my mood was very low.”

The trial has heard that Beal was subsequently traced by police to Cumbria, where she had checked into a holiday lodge on March 6 last year.

On March 15, the court was told, police attended the lodge after being contacted by a concerned family member and found an apparent suicide note and a notebook.

Beal was admitted to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, where officers read the notebook and formed the opinion that she had killed her ex-partner, the court heard.

In her evidence, Beal said she was thinking of taking her own life and had travelled to the lodge “to be somewhere quiet”.

She said she could not remember her thought process at the time she killed Mr Billingham, adding: “I could read it (the notebook) and understand what my thought process was but I don’t remember it as an actual memory.”

The trial continues.