Friday brief: Fiona Beal’s ‘confession’ notebooks allege partner was a ‘sociopath’
More from the murder trial of the Northampton primary teacher plus other news from across the county
We’ve been listening in Northampton Crown Court throughout this week to the murder trial of Fiona Beal. The 49-year-old primary school teacher has admitted to killing her long term partner Nicholas Billingham, but denies it was murder due to her state of mind.
We have a report below of what happened in court yesterday and throughout the anticipated remaining five weeks of the trial we will be returning to the trial and bringing you reports until the jury reaches its verdict.
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Notebooks written by Fiona Beal after she killed her ‘controlling’ partner allege that he prided himself on being a sociopath.
Beal, 49, is accused of murdering her long term partner Nicholas Billingham in November 2021 and burying his body in the garden of their home in Moore Street, Northampton.
Her crime came to light after she signed off sick from her job as a year 6 teacher at Eastfields Primary last February and ran away to a lodge in the lake district to end her own life.
On day four of the trial yesterday the crown court heard more about Beal’s final days in Cumbria as a free woman and also her feelings towards Billingham and what she had done.
While in the Lake District, Beal, who had been in a relationship with Billingham for 17 years had written in a blue notebook which the prosecution has termed her ‘confession’ notebook. After discovering her following a failed suicide attempt, a police officer read her journal and concluded she had killed her partner.
Yesterday, Northamptonshire Detective Constable Donna Fleming, who is the officer in charge of the case against Beal, read extracts from Beal’s notebooks to the jury.
In them Beal described how she had driven up to the Lake District and while on the road had been helped by a couple after having trouble with her tyre.
After arriving at the holiday lodge in Kendal she described seeing a shooting star and making a wish. She drank red wine and smoked cannabis and wrote in her notebook. She wrote about how she had ‘struggled with my mind for as long as I can remember’ and now that she mostly saw the world in grey.
She wrote that she had decided to take her own life as she realised the only other option would have been prison.
“Still my actions haunt me. I sometimes have to catch myself and remember what I did.
“Sometimes I can’t quite believe this is it. But it would seem this is the end of the road.”
She also wrote that she was not afraid of dying and had come to the conclusion that humans are ‘just animals’.
“I can’t go home,” she wrote. “If I did I would be arrested and back in the grey world . . . where people are cruel, work is overwhelming and where my mind goes to dark places.”
Within the book’s pages she listed things she liked such as teaching, certain Hollywood actors and musicians Peter Gabriel and Paolo Nutini.
She also wrote:
“I have accepted . . . I will never know the sort of love that Paolo Nutini sings about.”
A batch of ripped up tea stained notes were found in Beal’s car by police. Detective Fleming’s team had pieced them together as part of the investigation and in them she wrote that she had thought for a while that she might get away with Billingham’s killing.
“People will dine out on their connection to me,” she wrote. “No ghosts have haunted me, no visions, no different feelings. My self torment is nothing new.”
The court heard how her writings chronicled her years of misery with Billingham. She wrote that he prided himself on being a ‘sociopath’, was ‘unlikeable’, ‘a Jekyl and Hyde’ character and called her a ‘fat, boring teacher’. She said he was ‘controlling’ and sexually demeaning and had reinforced her own ‘internal monologue’ She said after they bought a house together she felt he ‘owned her’ and no longer had to try. She referred to herself as a ‘passive doormat’.
The court also heard of her remorse. She wrote:
“I’m sorry I didn’t leave him. I’m sorry I let him rip my self esteem apart. . . . I’m sorry I took him back. I’m sorry for what I did.”
In her notebook she wrote that smoking weed (cannabis) had enabled her to access her ‘stronger’ self and that she didn’t think she could have done what she did without it.
The court also heard evidence from pathologist Dr Francis Hollingbury who said Billingham had died from a stab wound to the neck. She had not been able to determine whether his death had been instant.
CCTV footage of Beal buying garden supplies in a Northampton DIY store on three occasions between November 13 and December 13 were shown to the jury. On one occasion she used Billingham’s card to pay for the items and on the final visit she also bought a pot plant on her way out.
Billingham’s body was found under the patio after police officers noticed freshly laid bark.
The trial continues.
News in brief
A former Northamptonshire Police sergeant whose boorish behaviour created a “hostile, intimidating and degrading” working environment for female colleagues would have been sacked had he not already quit.
Richard Hall resigned before an internal misconduct hearing took place last Friday and did not attend it himself.
However, he had admitted gross misconduct and apologised to former colleagues affected by his behaviour, the force said.
The hearing was told Hall, who worked in Wellingborough, slapped a colleague on the bottom at a wedding at which they were both guests in September 2021.
He reminded her of that incident when they both attended another social event several months later and he went on to make further inappropriate comments.
He also tried to lick a colleague’s face while they sat in a photo booth during a Christmas party in December 2019, the panel heard.
The panel, chaired by Northamptonshire Police’s temporary chief constable Paul Gibson, found the allegations proven and that the behaviour was inappropriate.
It said Mr Hall failed to treat junior officers with respect and courtesy and failed to maintain a professional boundary.
It also said his treatment of the women had been “specifically based on their sex” and his behaviour was likely to undermine public confidence in the police.
Report by Nathan Briant, Local Democracy Reporter
A plan to use a former care home in a Northamptonshire village as a hostel has been refused.
The proposal to convert Westgate House in Eastcote Road, Gayton, had been opposed by approximately 140 villagers.
The home shut in early-2022 but was used as a hostel without permission from November.
The village’s councillors had opposed the project and planning officers said it would have been “incompatible” with the village’s character and left “isolated in open countryside”.
West Northamptonshire Council (WNC) planning officers told the building’s owners, Midlands Living CIC, to lodge an official application if they wanted to continue to use the building as a hostel.
Midlands Living CIC had said it wanted to house asylum seekers there, however Daventry MP Chris Heaton-Harris said in February that the Home Office had decided not to use the site.
The hostel had not been used for asylum seekers but for other unspecified occupants.
WNC said that was still an unsuitable use of the site. It said the area’s shortage of care home places meant it should be used for its original purpose.
The application was refused at WNC’s South Northamptonshire local area planning committee last Thursday.
Report by Nathan Briant, Local Democracy Reporter
Northampton South MP Andrew Lewer had a proposed bill amendment which would have allowed ‘silent prayer’ outside abortion clinics defeated this week.
The Conservative MP tabled the amendment to the Public Order Bill which would make intimidating, interfering with or harassing women accessing abortions an offence.
Buffer zones are safe areas around abortion clinics to allow women to access the procedure without challenge. Women have been regularly approached by pro-life campaigners and religious activists outside clinics.
At the debate on March 8 Lewer said it was’ entirely unacceptable in a free and open society’ that people were being arrested for praying.
“These zones would be the only place in the UK where consensual communication is banned by the state—simply saying that sentence makes this seem such an absurdity. To those who say this would never happen, I say that it has indeed already happened. In December, in Birmingham, Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was searched, arrested, interrogated and placed on criminal trial for silently praying within one of these zones, and she has now been arrested again.”
His amendment to the bill was defeated.