Primary school teacher jailed for life after stabbing partner to death and burying him in garden

Nicholas Billingham, 42, was found dead at the rear of a terraced property in Moore Street, Kingsley
-Credit: (Image: Northamptonshire Police / SWNS)

A primary school teacher has been handed a life sentence with a minimum of 20 years behind bars for the murder of her partner, whom she stabbed to death and then buried in their Northampton garden. Fiona Beal, aged 50, confessed to killing 42-year-old Nicholas Billingham, whose body was found in a partially mummified state four-and-a-half months after he was last seen alive on November 1, 2021.

Beal entered a guilty plea during a retrial at the Old Bailey this April, following the collapse of her initial trial at Northampton Crown Court which ended abruptly on its 64th day. Judge Mark Lucraft KC imposed the life sentence after a two-day hearing concluded on Thursday, telling Beal: "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."

As Beal exited the courtroom, she kept her head bowed. The sentencing also included the reading of a letter by prosecutor Hugh Davies KC, which Mr Billingham had penned to Beal post an affair during their 17-year relationship.

In his letter, Mr Billingham acknowledged his mistakes and referred to Beal as "the most beautiful woman in the world" vowing never to "belittle" her again and expressing his love for her "with all my heart". Yvonne Valentine, Mr Billingham's mother, in her statement to the court, condemned Beal as "pure evil" and recounted the chilling memory of sharing a Christmas drink with her on December 23, 2021, unaware that her son's remains were mere feet away.

The judge branded it a "callous act" performed by Beal, camouflaged as a "dressed up as a casual chat and a drink before Christmas". He continued: "There was lie after lie", reports Nottinghamshire Live.

On the fateful day, Mr Billingham had been occupied with house renovation work, afterwards returning to the home he shared with Beal in Northampton. On that evening, she took his life, described by Mr Davies as a "carefully planned domestic execution".

According to Mr Davies, Beal fatally stabbed him in the neck and callously discarded his body in the side return of their home like "building waste". She concealed her dreadful deeds behind a fabricated tale that they were suffering from Covid and needed to self-isolate.

Deceptive messages were sent from Mr Billingham's phone from November 2, in which Beal disguised herself as him. On November 8, Beal conveyed to her sisters that she and Mr Billingham had parted ways, hinting in one message towards infidelity on his part as the reason for his departure.

Upon her return to work, those aware of the alleged breakup offered her their sympathy. Beal's mental health reportedly started showing signs of deterioration in late February 2022, as per court evidence.

In an unsettling entry in her journal dated February 12, she penned: "I'm not a total monster. I know what I did."

In the succeeding month, she rented a cabin in Cumbria and sparked worry among family members through certain messages, leading to them alerting police to check up on her.

In the cabin, police discovered Beal's diaries which included a confession to the murder. The entries also mentioned her claiming to have a split personality and an alter ego named Tulip 22.

She penned: "I had smoked all day. I had a bath, I left the water in. He had been pushing for sex. 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 I had 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."

She continued: "My last words to him when he asked why was that he was not going to do to (another female) what he had done to me."

The writings prompted a police probe, which revealed Mr Billingham hadn't been seen or contacted by phone since the afternoon of November 1, 2021, as presented in court.

Beal was apprehended in March 2022 following the discovery of his remains. Police had inspected her property on March 16 but didn't spot anything unusual.

However, the following day they found a blood-soaked mattress in the cellar and on returning on March 19, they uncovered more evidence.

Mr Billingham's desiccated corpse was interred in improvised strata of tarpaulin and cement. Throughout this time, she maintained her role as a dedicated Year 6 teacher, acting as though nothing was amiss, Mr Davies recounted.

Andrew Wheeler KC, defending, disclosed to the court that Beal "had the courage" to plead guilty to the murder following a shift of evidential circumstances. He stated the pattern of Mr Billingham's conduct towards Beal was "relevant" to the crime and there were sequential events which resulted in "something never contemplated" the assault.

The original hearing last June was disrupted when it transpired a critical defence witness was a custodial officer from the court who had overseen welfare checks on Beal while in custody.