Primary school teacher stabbed partner to death and buried his body in the back garden

-Credit: (Image: Northamptonshire Police/PA Wire)
-Credit: (Image: Northamptonshire Police/PA Wire)

A primary school teacher has been sentenced to life with a minimum of 20 years behind bars, for the murder of her partner.

Fiona Beal, aged 50, confessed to killing Nicholas Billingham, aged 42, whose partially mummified body was found four-and-a-half months after he was last seen alive on 1 November 2021. Beal entered a guilty plea during a retrial at the Old Bailey in April, following the collapse of her initial trial at Northampton Crown Court on its 64th day.

Judge Mark Lucraft KC imposed the life sentence on Beal at the conclusion of a two-day sentencing hearing on Thursday, stating: "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.”

Read more: Footage shows moment Roy Keane grappled with fan after alleged headbutt as Micah Richards watches on

The defendant remained head bowed as she was led from the courtroom. During the sentencing, prosecutor Hugh Davies KC presented a letter written by Mr Billingham to Beal, in which he acknowledged his infidelity during their 17-year relationship, referred to Beal as "the most beautiful woman in the world" vowed never to "belittle" her again, and professed his love for her "with all my heart".

Yvonne Valentine, Mr Billingham's mother, in her victim impact statement which was read out in court, condemned Beal as "pure evil" and recounted the harrowing experience of sharing a Christmas drink with her on 23 December 2021, unaware that her son's remains were mere feet away.

The judge condemned the murder as a "callous act" by Beal, describing it as "dressed up as a casual chat and a drink before Christmas". He further stated: "There was lie after lie."

On the day he was killed, Mr Billingham had been working on a house renovation and later returned to the Northampton home he shared with Beal. That evening, she murdered him in what was termed a "carefully planned domestic execution", according to Mr Davies.

Beal fatally stabbed him in the neck and then disposed of his body in the side return of their property like it was "building waste", detailed Mr Davies. She concocted an elaborate cover-up, claiming they were isolating due to Covid.

Beal also sent deceptive messages from Mr Billingham's phone starting November 2, posing as him. By November 8, she messaged her sisters to falsely claim that she and Mr Billingham had separated, even suggesting he had left because of an affair with another woman.

Upon returning to work, Beal garnered sympathy from colleagues who believed the fabricated story of the break up.

The court heard that Beal's mental health began to decline around late February 2022. In a journal entry dated February 12, she wrote, acknowledging her actions: "I'm not a total monster. I know what I did."

A month later, Beal rented a cabin in Cumbria and sent concerning messages to her family, leading them to alert the police about her welfare. Police discovered Beal's journals in the cabin, which included a confession to the murder.

The journals of the accused included disturbing details, such as her mentioning a split personality and an alter ego named Tulip 22.

She detailed in her writings: "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."

Further chilling entries revealed: "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."

Her journal also contained the ominous recounting: "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 discovery of these journals led to a police investigation which found that Mr Billingham had been missing since November 1, 2021, as informed by the court.

Beal was apprehended in March 2022 following the grim discovery of Mr Billingham's remains. Initially, a police visit to her residence on March 16 revealed nothing suspicious.

However, the subsequent day's search uncovered a bloodstained mattress in the basement, and further probing on March 19 led to more findings.

They unearthed Mr Billingham's mummified body, concealed under makeshift layers of sheeting and concrete.

Prosecutor Mr Davies highlighted the stark contrast between the gruesome murder and Beal's professional life, where she continued "to deliver high-quality teaching to Year 6 pupils as if nothing had happened".

In her defence, Andrew Wheeler KC stated that Beal "had the courage" to admit to the murder after a shift in the evidence.

He stated that Mr Billingham's behaviour towards Beal was "relevant" to the murder and there were a series of events which led to "something never contemplated" the attack.

The initial trial fell apart last June when it was revealed that a crucial defence witness was a court custody officer who had conducted welfare checks on Beal in the cells.