Primary school teacher accused of murdering her boyfriend revealed ‘alter ego’ in journal entries, court told

Fiona Beal admits killing her partner Nicholas Billingham but denies it was murder as court told she hid his body in a ‘de facto coffin’

Amy-Clare Martin
Crime Correspondent
Friday 19 April 2024 19:44 BST
Fiona Beal is accused of murdering her boyfriend in 2021
Fiona Beal is accused of murdering her boyfriend in 2021 (Northamptonshire Police/PA)

A primary school teacher accused of stabbing her boyfriend and burying him in their garden wrote a journal entry saying moving a body is “much more difficult than it looks on TV”, a court heard.

Year 6 teacher Fiona Beal, 50, admits killing her 42-year-old boyfriend Nicholas Billingham, whose partly mummified remains were discovered four-and-a-half months after he was last seen.

A jury at the Old Bailey heard on Friday that Beal pleaded guilty to the lesser offence of manslaughter by reason of a loss of control – but denies that she murdered Mr Billingham in 2021.

Opening the case, prosecutor Hugh Davies KC said: “There is no dispute that she killed Nick Billingham, concealed his body where it was found and acted alone throughout. There is no dispute that she intended to kill him.

“She has accepted that she is guilty of the lesser offence of manslaughter. She has pleaded guilty to that offence. She does not accept she is guilty of murder.”

She was arrested in March 2022 after police discovered Mr Billingham’s body concealed in a “de facto coffin” made of breeze blocks, timber and sheets in the garden of their Northampton home, the court heard.

Mr Davies alleged that Beal sent messages from Mr Billingham’s phone on 2 November 2021, in the aftermath of his death, claiming they had both contracted Covid-19 and needed to self-isolate.

Mr Davies told jurors the messages were Beal ”pretending to be him” in a move that was “as heartless as it was self-serving” as she used the time to purchase items to dispose of his body.

She went on to tell her sisters that she and Mr Billingham had split up, with one message claiming he left because he’d had an affair with another woman.

Beal returned to work “fully discharging her considerable responsibilities as a teacher to Year 6 pupils” and receiving a “sympathetic response” from people who had heard about her breakup, the court heard.

However, her mental health started to deteriorate in late February 2022, the court was told.

In March of that year, she rented a cabin for herself in Cumbria and sent messages to family members, which gave them cause for concern over her wellbeing, prompting them to call police to check up on her, the prosecutor said.

In the cabin, police found journals “written in her hand” which revealed “a wholly different side to her personality” – including a so-called “alter ego” she referred to as Tulip 22, the jury was told.

Mr Davies said: “They certainly do contain some unambiguously clear declarations of what she had done. These parts were not just her truth, but the truth. What was this?

“The short answer is that she had planned to, and had, killed him in cold blood. She had purchased a forged handled utility knife in the days before. She had a chisel and cable ties.

“Promising sex after a bath, she stabbed him in the neck when he was wearing a sleep mask and was probably cabled-tied on their bed.”

He added: “She introduces her insight into her own split personality, and an alter ego – ie her ‘second self’ she calls Tulip 22 – who is capable of wholly different and darker conduct than her public persona of a committed teacher.”

Jurors heard one entry said: “Still my actions haunt me. I sometimes have to catch myself and remember what I did and then remember my cover story – neither seem convincing.”

Another entry detailed her planning for the attack, writing: “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.”

After the journals were discovered, police soon established that Mr Billingham had not been seen or spoken to since the afternoon of 1 November 2021.

“Having manufactured and sustained a cynical lie to everyone she messaged or spoke to about isolating for Covid, Fiona Beal had planned and ensured that she had the house to herself for at least 10 days after the killing,” Mr Davies said.

“She used this time to purchase multiple items to enable her to dispose of his body.

“Acting throughout on her own, she wrapped her dead partner up and dragged him down the stairs, destroying the bannister rails upstairs in order to do so. He was 5ft 11in and weighed some 14 stone – even when recovered months later.

“She buried him in the side return of her garden.”

A previous jury was discharged for legal reasons at a court in Northampton last June.

The Old Bailey trial continues.

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