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Northampton teacher jailed for life for partner's murder

|News, Violent crime

A primary school teacher from Northampton has been sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 20 years for the murder of her partner.

Fiona Beal, 50, stabbed Nick Billingham in the neck in November 2021 at their home in Moore Street. She then concealed his body in a shallow grave at the side of the house, under the pretence of isolating following a positive Covid test. She concealed his death from his family by pretending he had run off with another woman and periodically texted them from his phone.

In March 2022, apparently triggered by an unconnected visit from a local police community support officer, Beal went to stay in a holiday lodge in Cumbria, where she sent a WhatsApp message to family members, which raised concerns about her welfare. She was located at the cabin and a journal was found in the cabin where she admitted to killing Mr Billingham.

The revelations in the journal prompted a search of the house in Northampton, and Mr Billingham’s body was discovered. Beal was charged with his murder. The first trial took place in summer 2023, but the jury was discharged when the court received reports of an issue with a defence witness.

A second trial started in April 2024, but Beal pleaded guilty to murder shortly after it started on 26 April. She was today sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 20 years.

Andrew Baxter from the Crown Prosecution Service said: “Fiona Beal’s crime and her ongoing deception shocked family members and the whole community. She exploited a narrative that she was the victim of abuse at the hands of her long-term partner, but rather than leave the relationship, she killed him in a planned, cold-blooded execution when he thought he was safe with his partner.

“This has been a particularly distressing time for Mr Billingham’s family as they have had to come to terms with Beal’s ongoing lies, and deceit, which even included letting them visit the house when his body was hidden there. I have nothing but admiration for the dignity they have shown through these ongoing proceedings and my heart goes out to them for their loss.”

Building the case

Fiona Beal managed to sustain a deception for several months after the murder that Mr Billingham had left her to pursue an affair and was not communicating. It was only after she was discovered in Cumbria along with her journal which prompted a further search of the house in Northampton, during which Mr Billingham’s body was found, as well as a bloodstained mattress and traces of blood on the walls that had been covered by a new coat of paint.

The Crown Prosecution Service presented this as compelling evidence that Mr Billingham’s death had happened in their home as described in the journal.

Beal used her deteriorating mental health when she was discovered in Cumbria to claim diminished responsibility and loss of control.

The CPS presented evidence of the planning involved in carrying out the killing. Hiding Mr Billingham’s body, using the cover of a Covid infection, Beal’s continued pretence that he had abruptly left her, and her redecorating the house and moving furniture to obscure the view of where she had buried Mr Billingham showed that she had not suffered a loss of control and had been fully aware of her actions.

Before the start of the second trial, the CPS commissioned a further psychiatric report which resulted in the conclusion that diminished responsibility was not an available defence in this case.  The other expert witnesses instructed by the defence also took the same view.

Faced with this additional review and the removal of the partial defence of diminished responsibility, the second trial commenced with the defence running only the partial defence of loss of control.  However after three days of that second trial, Beal pleaded guilty to murder.

The prosecution’s case at the sentencing was that she had chosen murder as a means to escape an unhappy relationship and start a new life for herself.

Notes to editors

  • Andrew Baxter is a Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor at CPS East Midlands

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