Murder trial teacher claims relationship ‘deteriorated’ after Covid lockdown

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A primary school teacher who stabbed her partner and buried his body in their back garden has told a court their relationship quickly deteriorated during the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020.

Giving a second day of evidence at Northampton Crown Court, Fiona Beal said Nicholas Billingham became “more angry and aggressive” and she had feared things could “get physical” in the weeks after they bought and moved into the house where his body was found.

Beal, who began her evidence on April 28, also alleged that her sexual relationship with Mr Billingham had “always been on his terms”.

Fiona Beal court case
A selfie of Fiona Beal shown at her trial (Northamptonshire Police/PA)

She is alleged to have used carpet, bark chippings bought from a hardware store, soil, concrete building blocks, bricks and planks to bury her partner’s body, which was found in March 2022.

Beal, who claims she does not remember “much at all” about the killing or the following months, was asked to give details about the period after 2018, when she found out Mr Billingham was having an affair.

Answering questions from defence barrister Andrew Wheeler KC, Beal said she had decided to let Mr Billingham move back in with her in early 2019 after he promised to “go legit” and made a proposal of marriage.

She told the court on Tuesday: “He really made an effort. I genuinely thought this could be the turning point.”

Asked to describe what happened after the couple bought and moved to the Moore Street property in late February 2020, having paid a £7,000 deposit, Beal said: “When we first moved in things were OK and then it quickly deteriorated.

“The pandemic started in the March and I believe he got furloughed by June – it was around that time that things became more difficult.

“He became angry and aggressive. He had gone back on his fixations with things.”

Alleging that Mr Billingham had shouted about crumbs being left in the kitchen, Beal added: “He would have a go at me. I would stay quiet.”

Body found in Northampton garden
Forensic officers at the scene in Moore Street, Kingsley, in March 2022 (Jacob King/PA)

“He always said ‘I don’t hit you’ but I always felt like it could get physical.”

Mr Wheeler read extracts of letters Mr Billingham sent to Beal, in which the builder promised not to “belittle” her.

She then told the court: “He could say things to make me feel inferior.”

Saying her self-esteem had “hit rock bottom” while living at Moore Street, Beal told the jury that after her partner was furloughed she had contacted her doctor to ask for an increase in her anti-depressant medication.

“I am not exactly sure when that was,” she told the panel. “I was finding it more and more difficult.

“It was difficult because I was working from home for some of the time but because the schools were still open I was still going into school.

“If I wore make-up he would question who I was wearing it for and if I didn’t then I was looking old and frumpy.”

Beal has previously claimed Mr Billingham twice threw a dinner plate against a wall after making cleaning into a “huge issue” between them.

Mr Wheeler said earlier in the trial that Beal was guilty of manslaughter rather than murder, having been mentally “broken” following coercive behaviour.

The trial continues.

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