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The teacher who concealed her boyfriend's murder while she was 'off sick' with Covid

Police cars outside the crime scene at Nicholas Billingham's home
Image Credit: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo | Above: Forensic officers at a crime scene in Moore Street, Northampton on the 20th March 2022, following a discovery of a body in a rear garden of the property.

Nicholas Billingham was a 42-year-old builder living with his girlfriend, 48-year-old Fiona Beal, a primary school teacher at Eastfield Academy. The couple owned a terraced house on Morse Street in the Kingsley area of Northampton, where Nicholas was known as a friendly neighbour. One resident recalled: ‘He was such a pleasant guy, ever so nice. We had some snow and ice and he helped push my car out for me.’

In November 2021, Nicholas mysteriously vanished. The last time that he was seen was at a business meeting, following which his van was discovered under some trees.

Despite not being seen by friends and family, Nicholas continued to send text messages insisting that he was alright. According to Beal, Nicholas had been cheating on her. They had recently gone through a rough patch due to Nicholas’ affairs, one of which resulted in the birth of a child in 2019. Beal confided in friends and family that Nicholas had left her for another woman.

Around the same time that Nicholas vanished, Beal was absent from work. She told her employer that she was sick with Covid. When police first went to interview Beal following the discovery of Nicholas’ abandoned van, she referred to him as her ex-partner and said that they had recently separated.

At the end of February 2022, Beal was off work with Covid again. While she told her employer she was unwell, she told her mother she was attending a residential course due to staff illness. The truth was that Beal had booked into the High Borrans Lodges near Windermere for 10 days.

Beal’s mother was concerned for her welfare, and police tracked her down to the hotel to speak with her. She told them that she had booked into the hotel and lied simply because she wanted ‘some peace and quiet’. She admitted that she had been feeling suicidal since the disappearance of Nicholas and that she didn’t want her family to be told of her exact whereabouts.

Just a couple of days later, Beal sent an ominous message to a family group chat which read: ‘I am so sorry. I love you all very much.’ The message was reported to police and they went to High Borrans Lodge once more to conduct a welfare check. Inside the lodge, they found a note which read: ‘Do not go in the bathroom.’

The responding officers entered the bathroom and found Beal in the bath. She had self-inflicted wounds to her wrists but was still alive. That afternoon, she was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

The officers searched the rest of the lodge and came across a notebook that detailed the planning and murder of a man. It read in part: ‘I suppose I ought to explain what happened to get me to this point. He was around again possibly Sophie from GN. Whenever he was cheating he would up the ante on belittling, moaning and criticising. I have to confess.’

It further read how an unnamed person’s actions ‘fuelled my dark side – I call her Tulip22, she’s reckless, fearless and efficient. Ruthless. I started plotting as Tulip22 after he’d gone to bed. I got used to sleeping downstairs and waited for him to go to bed and then got high and let Tulip22 out. Halloween sealed it. He was vile. That night I planned.’

It continued: ‘While he was in the bath I kept the knife in my dressing gown pocket and then hid 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. It was harder than I thought it would be. Hiding a body was bad. Moving a body is much more difficult than it looks on TV. I started to believe the cover story.’

The note was very unsettling, and police knew that Beal’s boyfriend was missing. They embarked on the couple’s home and in the basement, they found blood-soaked bedding and a mattress. While Beal was in the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, she was cautioned for murder. Back at the home, police continued their search. In the bedroom, forensic experts sprayed luminol which gave the presence of blood spattered on the walls.

On 21st March, it was announced that Nicholas’ body was discovered in the garden of the couple’s home. He was lying on his back and was partially wrapped in black plastic with some tape. He had been buried underneath decorative stones.

In announcing the grim development, Detective Chief Inspector Adam Pendlebury said: ‘Regrettably, I can confirm that a body has been found in the rear garden of the address.’ Nicholas’ body was transported to Leicester Royal Infirmary for an autopsy to be conducted. It found that he had died as the result of a stab wound to the neck which had cut through the jugular vein.

Beal was accused of killing Nicholas at some point between 30th October and 10th November 2021. She was charged with the murder and appeared in Northampton Magistrates’ Court where she only spoke to confirm her name, age and address. She was then remanded in custody.

Meanwhile, Nicholas’ family released a statement thanking everybody for their outpouring of support. It read in part: ‘Nick has been taken from us far too early and will always be in our hearts. We’ve been overwhelmed with offers of kind support, and words of comfort from so many beautiful people, and know that he will be sadly missed by all his friends, family and loved ones. Our heart aches for Nick. He was a gorgeous little boy, and we have so many cherished memories of him growing up and were so proud of the man he became.’

In June, Beal appeared in court once more where she was given a preliminary trial date of 12th September, pending her making a plea. She subsequently pleaded not guilty to Nicholas’ murder and the trial date was scheduled for early 2023.

The murder trial began on 13th March 2023, and prosecutors laid out their case to the jury. They theorised that Beal had stabbed Nicholas in their bedroom and then wrapped his body up before purchasing compost and decorative stones. They claimed that Beal then buried the body in their garden before repainting the bedroom to cover up the blood stains.

Prosecutor Steven Perian said that by October 2021, Beal was ‘unhappy with her partner and had decided to kill him.’ He told the jury that it was ‘very likely, Beal killed Nicholas Billingham during the evening of 1st November 2021 in their bedroom.’

The prosecution contended that the notebook they found at the lodge was a grim confession written by Beal. In the notebook, Beal also claimed that Nicholas had spat on her and threatened her during sex and that he subjected her to belittling treatment.

Prosecutor Perian stated: ‘The police recovered a notebook from the place where she had been renting that detailed a chilling account of how she had planned and killed someone, but it did not contain the name of the person she had killed.’

The prosecutor then referred to the text messages that Nicholas’ family had received that were reportedly from him. According to the prosecution, these text messages were actually from Beal. They accused her of using his mobile phone to ‘send messages to friends, work colleagues and to his mother to pretend that he was still alive.’

In an almost unheard-of move, the defence admitted that Beal had killed Nicholas during their opening statements. Defence attorney Andrew Wheeler said that there was no dispute that she had killed him but said that she had suffered from years of coercive behaviour at the hands of Nicholas. He stated: ‘Over the years, we submit to you, she was worn down until she was quite literally broken.’

According to the defence, Beal was guilty of manslaughter rather than murder. He said: ‘There is no dispute in this case that she unlawfully killed Nicholas Billingham. What this case is really about is her state of mind. You will hear that she has, over the years, struggled with her mental health.’

The defence team suggested to the jury that Beal’s actions and thoughts were manipulated over the course of their relationship. He said: ‘Over the years, we submit to you, she was worn down until she was quite literally broken. Fiona Beal is unable to recall many of the details of the actual act itself.’

Fiona Beal’s trial is still ongoing and she is presumed innocent until proven guilty.