Teacher’s partner found buried under bark, rubble and bricks, jury told

The body of a builder killed by a primary school teacher was found wrapped in carpet, buried under bark chippings, soil, wooden sheeting, concrete building blocks, bricks and planks, a forensic archaeologist has told a court.

The trial of Fiona Beal heard 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 Nicholas Billingham.

Prosecutors allege Beal planned the killing, stabbing her long-term partner in the neck with a knife on November 1 2021 in the master bedroom of their home in Moore Street, Northampton, after informing her headteacher she had Covid-19.

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

It is alleged a book found when Beal was arrested in March last year, containing a hand-written note saying she had offered the “incentive of sex” and got Mr Billingham to wear an eye mask, amounted to a “confession” to the killing.

Beal’s barrister has claimed the “scribblings” are clear evidence of a disturbed mind on the part of the 49-year-old Year Six teacher, who denies murder.

Giving evidence to Northampton Crown Court on Wednesday, forensic archaeologist Peter Schofield took the jury through photographs taken as Mr Billingham’s body was uncovered during a three-day excavation.

He told the court: “The information I had was that on the 16th of March 2022 a missing person called Fiona Beal was found in a hotel room by officers from Cumbria Constabulary.

“Within the room was a journal allegedly detailing the planning of the murder of her partner, Nicholas Billingham, and the subsequent description of the disposal of his body.”

Mr Schofield said an area of interest had been identified by police at the Moore Street property, including a mound covered by bark chippings.

Jurors were shown photographs of the mound in a narrow rectangular area between a fence and the wall of an annexe housing Beal’s kitchen, leading to a set of French doors.

Describing what he found on March 18, 19 and 20 last year, Mr Schofield told the court paving slabs had been placed vertically, forming a “retaining wall” to the mound.

After listing the various layers of material which were identified and removed, Mr Schofield told the jury: “There was a visible mound forming the approximate shape of a human body, which was covered by a rug and also by a carpet.”

Telling jurors how the “partially-clothed and partially-wrapped” remains of 42-year-old Mr Billingham were found, Mr Schofield said: “The lower torso and legs were covered by a light blue fabric, possibly a fitted bedsheet.

“The head end was covered by a yellow-coloured patterned fabric/possible duvet cover.”

Plastic ties had been attached to Mr Billingham’s left wrist, Mr Schofield told the court, adding: “The body was lying on its back and it was partially wrapped with black plastic.

“These wrappings were secured on the lower legs with cable near to the feet and interlocked plastic ties near to the knees.

“An item of clothing, possibly a dressing gown, was visible on the upper torso and left arm.”

Body found in Northampton garden
Forensic officers at the scene last March (Jacob King/PA)

Jurors were also shown pictures of a knotted hose pipe and a cable found near Mr Billingham’s head, near more plastic ties.

Mr Schofield continued: “The partially-wrapped body was sited on top of plywood sheeting on top of weathered gravel, which appeared to be the ground surface prior to the deposition of the body.”

The court has previously heard Beal, who taught at Northampton’s Eastfield Academy, was a “thoroughly liked” teacher.

Her barrister, Andrew Wheeler KC, told the court on Monday that she would argue that she was mentally “broken” at the time of the killing and is guilty of manslaughter but not murder.

The trial continues.