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_ Fiona Beal murder victim's mother had Christmas drink at couple's home just feet away from where son was buried

_ Fiona Beal murder victim's mother had Christmas drink at couple's home just feet away from where son was buried

A heartbroken mother has told how she was invited over for Christmas drinks with her son's calculating killer while he lay buried in the back garden just feet away. 

Primary school teacher Fiona Beal, 50, today pleaded guilty to luring 42-year-old builder Nick Billingham to their room for sex before tying him to the bed with cable ties, stabbing him in the neck and burying his body in their garden.

Mr Billingham was found by police shortly after officers discovered a notebook with a 'chilling' confession inside, written by Beal under her alter-ego 'Tulip22' following a suicide attempt in March 2022. 

After murdering him 'in cold blood' at their home in Northampton on November 1, 2021, the 'highly capable' teacher offered Mr Billingham's mother Yvonne a drink and chatted with her, all while knowing he was dead and in a makeshift grave metres away.

After killing her partner, Beal told friends they had both tested positive for Covid so she would not be disturbed while she buried him in the garden. 

Speaking after the guilty plea, Mr Billingham's mother Yvonne said it hurt her to know her son's killer offered her a drink while he was buried just feet away.

She said: 'Nick was my firstborn and he was very loving little boy, cheeky, mischievous, things that boys are like. He had friends, he loved his football.

'How you could hate someone that much to do what she did I can't believe it, and apparently his last word was 'why' when she stabbed him in the neck.'

Recounting an occasion after her son's death, she added: 'I walked into the house and in the living room and the first thing I thought was, "ooh you've turned all your furniture round". 

'Fiona offered me a Christmas drink, and I said thank you, so I sat there with this drink, but then it always gets to me because Nick was buried in the garden just a few feet away and I didn't know he was there. 

'I try not to think about it too much but I do, it's horrible.'

Mr Billingham's body went undiscovered for four months before police found Beal's journal, in which she wrote how her lover asked 'why?' when she knifed him. 

In it, she had written about her 'dark side' which she described as 'reckless' and 'ruthless' - before describing how moving a body is 'harder than it looks on TV.'

They then dug up the garden and uncovered his mummified remains wrapped in sheeting in a makeshift grave filled with compost and ten 22.5kg bags of Cotswold Stone that she bought from B&Q especially for the purpose. 

Beal had initially pleaded guilty to the lesser offence of manslaughter by reason of of a loss of control, but denied murdering Mr Billingham between October 30 and November 10 2021.

Her defence team argued at the first trial: 'Fiona Beal is unable to recall many of the details of the actual act itself. The notes, the scribblings, are clear evidence of a disturbed mind.'

But a jury at the Old Bailey heard today that she had changed her plea.

It can now be revealed that a notebook found by police revealed how Beal, writing as Tulip22, described hiding a knife in a bedside drawer and getting Mr Billingham to wear an eye mask before his pre-planned murder. 

It was also said the notebook contained a claim that Beal had been spat on and threatened during sex and subjected to cruel and belittling treatment. 

Beal's crimes were unravelled when she was found at a lodge near Kendal in Cumbria in March 2022 after suffering superficial wounds and writing 'what read like a suicide note'. She was then taken to the local hospital and detained under the Mental Health Act.

According to the initial trial, police officers 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 trial heard that Northamptonshire Police were then contacted and visited Beal's home to find a bloodstained mattress in the basement and an apparent blood stain on the bed frame in the master bedroom.

Judge Mark Lucraft told Beal on Friday: 'You have this morning pleaded guilty to murder, which as you have no doubt been told, carries a sentence of life imprisonment.'

As the jury left the courtroom, a tearful Beal wiped her eyes with a tissue.

After murdering her partner, Beal sent messages to friends claiming they were both ill with Covid and had to isolate. 

Beal murdered Mr Billingham in their bedroom late on November 1. 

An extract from her diary provided a detailed account from Tulip22 of the events leading up to the murder.

It read: '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. Whenever he was cheating he would up the ante on belittling, moaning and criticising.'

'I have to confess. Ok here goes. October 2021. He spat on me and threatened me during sex. I thought about leaving but the things he said and did 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 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.'

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.

'That night I planned. Covid rules meant I had a guaranteed 10-day isolation period from positive symptoms.

'I called (Beal's headteacher) on the Monday and said we'd tested positive and had symptoms. He went to work. Tulip22 smoked and planned. I'd planned it mentally so many times before.

'I had a bath. I left the water in. I encouraged the bath with the incentive of sex afterwards.

'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.'

Prosecutor Hugh Davies, KC, told the Old Bailey: 'Central to the plan was knowing that after stabbing him, if she claimed she had Covid, she would have 10 days to bury him and cover up her crime.

'And that's exactly what happened. She was thinking about what time was best to do it, whether he would be snoring, but she knew or visualised it would be by stabbing him ''left to right, down slight right''. And that's what she did - she stabbed him in his jugular vein in his neck.'

Mr Davies continued: The clean-up started as early as 01.07am on 2 November. Using her dead partner's account, and then hers on Amazon, she bought multiple cleaning products, including for Venetian blinds, a new mop and bucket, ultra heavy duty bin bags, a new mattress, bedding, clothing, wall art and mirrors.

'This is considered, controlled, conduct that is on the one hand intrinsically practical, and on the other indulgent. On 1 November she manufactured a positive Covid test result-all you had to do was complete the NHS questionnaire online app self-report a positive test.

'There is no evidence she ever did a PCR test. Her actions in the next 10 days are wholly inconsistent with having the exhausting effects of Covid which she was claiming to be experiencing.'

Beal also sent messages to her sisters saying they had split up, with one message saying he left because he had had an affair with another woman.

The prosecution said the narrative that Mr Billingham had run off with another woman was 'completely false'. But jurors heard that Mr Billingham appeared to have cheated on Beal previously.

She 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 break-up.

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

The following month, she rented a cabin in Cumbria and sent messages to family members which gave them cause for concern over her wellbeing, prompting them to call police to check on her, the prosecutor said.

In the cabin, police found journals 'written in her hand' that showed 'a wholly different side to her personality'.

Beal had written in her journal that Mr Billingham asked 'why?' after she stabbed him.

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.'

After the killing, friends and colleagues of Beal said she appeared to physically transform.

Natalie Gardiner, a teacher who had worked with Beal at Eastfield Primary School in Northampton, spoke to her in February 2022 and told the first trial: 'She was very upbeat on the day and looked fabulous and had lost so much weight.

'When she returned from a school trip on February 25, she was fine and happy and had a great day before.'

The court previously heard that this was the second time a trial had started in the case, with a different jury - for a trial that took place in Northampton last year - discharged before the end of the evidence for legal reasons. 

Following Beal's guilty plea today, Detective Chief Inspector Adam Pendlebury, from Northamptonshire Police, said: 'We are pleased Fiona Beal has now taken the decision to admit she did indeed murder Nick Billingham and hope that it brings the start of some closure to his family who have faced a torrid time for more than two years, including sitting through the original trial in Northampton in 2023.

'Today's news will have come as a great relief as they await her sentencing next month.'

Beal will remain in custody and be sentenced on May 29 and 30. 


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