A primary school teacher fatally stabbed her partner because she believed he was cheating on her, a court heard today.
Fiona Beal, 49, allegedly lured Nicholas Billingham to bed for sex before killing him and then dragged his body to the back garden and buried him.
Jurors heard that Beal had been plotting the murder for weeks after Mr Billingham ‘spat on her and threatened her during sex’, a ‘chilling’ journal found at her Lake District bolthole revealed.
It detailed how the victim’s behaviour allegedly fuelled Beal’s ‘dark side’ – an alter ego she called Tulip22 who was ‘reckless, fearless and efficient’ – and charts how she persuaded Mr Billingham to wear an eye mask before she knifed him.
The court heard the Year 6 teacher killed and disposed of the 42-year-old in November 2021 after phoning in sick with Covid.
Builder Mr Billingham’s body was discovered under carpet wrapped in a bedsheet, duvet and cable ties three-and-a-half months after he was last seen attending a business meeting.
Fiona Beal is accused of stabbing her partner Nicholas Billingham to death after luring him to bed for sex
Mr Billingham’s remains were found buried in the back garden of her address in Northampton
Prosecutor Steven Perian KC said Mr Billingham had cheated on Beal with other women during their 17-year relationship.
‘Nicholas Billingham had left the defendant on a few occasions but always returned to her and she accepted him’, he said.
‘One of the women he slept with became pregnant and gave birth to his child.’
Mr Perian said that by the end of October 2021, Beal had resolved to kill Mr Billingham.
‘She believed he was cheating on her again’, the prosecutor said.
‘Instead of leaving him, she worked out a plan on how and when to kill him, where to conceal his body, how to cover up and explain his disappearance to others and to explain her own absence from work when she killed him.’
Jurors were told the murder is likely to have taken place on November 1 in their Northampton bedroom.
Having killed Mr Billingham, the Crown alleges, she tied up and wrapped his body, buried it in the garden, and painted and cleaned the bedroom where the killing had taken place.
Builder Mr Billingham’s body was discovered wrapped in a bedsheet, duvet and cable ties under carpet, three-and-a-half months after he was last seen attending a business meeting
She is then alleged to have told others that Mr Billingham had left her for another woman, and to have used his phone to send messages to friends and work colleagues, pretending that he was still alive
Later that month, Beal returned to work following her supposed isolation for Covid and told her headteacher that Billingham had left her, Mr Perian said.
The court heard the teacher carried on working as normal, even going on a school trip to London. But just weeks after visiting the capital, Beal began repeatedly messaging her head teacher to say she was ill.
Following the messages in March, the concerned head teacher contacted Beal’s mother, who revealed Beal had told her she was going away on a school residential trip. The head teacher then contacted the police to report her missing.
Cumbrian officers traced her to an address she had rented near Kendal, but Beal reassured an officer that she just wanted some ‘peace and quiet’ and did not wish for her family to know her exact whereabouts.
The officer relayed that message to Beal’s mother, but three days later they returned to the lodge after Beal sent her family a message saying: ‘I’m so sorry. I love you all very much.’
Officers gained entry to the lodge and found what appeared to be a suicide note, before discovering Beal naked in the bath with superficial wounds to her wrists.
Beal was taken to the local hospital and detained under the Mental Health Act, jurors were told.
Northampton Crown Court was told police also recovered a notebook from the holiday lodge and found in it 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 said.
Prosecutors allege Beal kept detailed notes about the murder and disposing the body
The Cumbrian force notified colleagues in Northampton and officers were sent to search Beal’s address.
‘SHE PRETENDED HE WAS STILL ALIVE’: PROSECUTORS CLAIM BEAL SENT FALSE MESSAGES FROM BOYFRIEND’S PHONE
The jury were also shown messages where Beal allegedly posed as her dead partner pretending he had Covid to cover her tracks the day after the murder.
Mr Perian added: ‘Sophie Fallon and her husband own a property and they were renovating it in 2021 when they met Nicholas Billingham.
‘He offered to assist them with the renovations and the work was completed in July 2021.
‘Nicholas Billingham worked with Sophie Fallon on a second renovation and in August 2021 moved to a renovation at Greens Norton.
‘She had visited Nicholas Billingham on a Saturday once at their house to have a project meeting and the defendant was there, she knew her name was Fiona but not her surname.
‘On November 1, 2021, there was a site meeting between Sophie Fallon and Nicholas Billingham at the Green Norton’s renovation site.
‘It started at 1pm and lasted between an hour and a half and two hours. That was the last time Sophie Fallon saw Nicholas Billingham.
‘The next morning at 7am she received a text message from Nicholas Billingham’s phone to say “Tested positive for COVID, going to be out of action for a while”.
‘She replied to the message ‘Oh no (3 x emoji’s)’ and a further message ‘Is that on a lateral flow or PCR?’.
‘The prosecution say, the 7am and any later messages were sent by the defendant after she had killed Nicholas Billingham and pretending to be him.’
A cursory initial search of the property revealed nothing suspicious, but a second detailed search uncovered a bloody mattress and duvet in the basement, and ‘freshly-laid bark in the garden’.
Northamptonshire Police asked for Beal to be arrested on suspicion of murder. Mr Billingham’s iPhone was then found at the holiday lodge during a search.
Jurors were read extracts of the notebook found at the holiday lodge, which referred to cult 90s film Thelma and Louise, starring Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon.
Beal wrote: ‘Everything changed last year. There’s a quote from Thelma and Louise that feels appropriate, Thelma: “You be sweet to them, especially your wife. My husband wasn’t sweet to me.”
‘I suppose I ought to explain what happened to get me to this point. My mental health had been deteriorating. He was f****** around again. Whenever he was cheating he would up the ante on belittling, moaning and criticising.’
The journal continued: ‘OK, here goes. October 2021. He spat on me and threatened me during sex.
‘I started plotting as Tulip22 after he’d gone to bed. I could no longer sleep in the bed due to my breathing being too loud or I moved too much or I was snoring or etc etc. I would have to go downstairs after sex and even when I was unwell.
‘I got used to sleeping downstairs and waited for him to go to bed and then got high and let Tulip22 out.’
The court heard the notebook entry, which referred to 17 years of ‘him’ being argumentative, mean, cruel and belittling, continued: ‘I knew I couldn’t let him get away with it. Halloween sealed it. He was vile.’
The book detailed how planning of the crime started after Halloween, with Beal realising coronavirus rules meant she would have a ‘guaranteed ten-day isolation period from positive symptoms’.
Beal wrote that she encouraged ‘him’ to have a bath ‘with the incentive of sex afterwards’, and hid the knife in her bedside draw while he was bathing.
She then wrote: ‘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.’
Part of the back garden was also dug up, revealing ‘partially wrapped and partially-clothed’ human remains. The body was located underneath a ‘mound’ containing ‘layers upon layers’ of bark, soil, paving slabs and various wrappings.
Mr Perian added: ‘The prosecution say from the evidence gathered that it is very likely that it took the defendant an extended period of time in undertaking the project to conceal his body in the garden.’
The court heard Mr Billingham’s ‘partly mummified’ body was identified through dental records. A pathologist concluded the cause of death was due to a single stab wound to the right side of the neck, cutting the jugular vein.
Mr Perian said: ‘There was a sleep mask over the eyes. The internal aspect of which was printed “this is my morning after face.”‘
The trial continues.