Jealous ex who ambushed former girlfriend and drowned her in woodland stream is jailed for 25 years 

A jealous ex-lover who ambushed his former girlfriend and drowned her in a woodland stream has been jailed for 25 years.

Andrew Pearson, 45, was obsessed with devout churchgoer Natalie Harker, 28, and would follow her around on his bike after she ended their 18 month relationship, turning up at her places of work.

Natalie told friends she was frightened by texts sent by Pearson and felt pressurised by messages from his mother urging them to get back together, Teesside Crown Court heard.

Natalie Harker (pictured right), 30, was allegedly snatched from her bicycle as she cycled to work by former Tesco worker Andrew Pearson (left), 45, who she had dumped weeks earlier

Victim’s parents pay tribute to ‘loving daughter’ 

Natalie’s parents John and Deborah, and her brother Alistair, paid tribute to the tragic victim in a statement.

It read: ‘Nothing will ever ease the pain of losing Natalie in such a tragic way. She will always be in our hearts and thoughts.

‘We have lost a loving daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin and friend to many.

‘We thank the senior investigating officer, Detective Inspector Steve Menzies and his team, for all their hard work.

‘Also, for the support of Lisa Carter from Homicide Victims Support, and from everyone in Colburn, Catterick and the surrounding area.’

In October last year, after warning he hoped Natalie would live to regret her decision in dumping him, Pearson set up camp in a camouflaged tent in woodland on the edge of the Catterick army base in North Yorkshire.

He lay in wait for Natalie at 4.30am on October 9 last year on the route she always took to begin her 5am shift at a medical centre, one of two cleaning jobs she had.

Pearson snatched her from her bike, hid it from view in a roadside field and dragged her to a stream next to the den in the woods where he had pitched a tent.

There he held her under the shallow water by her neck until she was dead, jurors were told.

He stayed with her body for 12 hours before eventually confessing by text to his friend James Garrity in America: ‘Goodbye, I have killed Natalie, I am going to hand myself in.’

In fact the only other person he notified was his mother, pretending Natalie had fallen into the water by accident, and it was his mother who called the police.

Natalie’s naked body was found in his tent and a post mortem examination found he’d had intercourse with her – possibly after her death.

It took jurors just under 90 minutes to decide Pearson’s version of events was a lie.

He claimed that Natalie – known for turning up to her shift ‘like clockwork’ – had willingly got off her bike and taken a woodland walk with him in the dark.

Pearson said they had consensual sex in the open air before she slipped and fell, dragging him to the ground with her.

A handout photo issued by North Yorkshire Police of Ms Harker, who left her parents' home in Colburn before dawn and never arrived at work on October 9 last year

A handout photo issued by North Yorkshire Police of Ms Harker, who left her parents’ home in Colburn before dawn and never arrived at work on October 9 last year

How police used telecommunications data to plot Pearson and Natalie’s movements on the morning of her murder 

  • Pearson had not in fact been camping out – he had left his home address three quarters of a mile away at 3.40am.
  • He arrived at the location of the kidnap and murder at 4am and got there via the gate at the top of the field. This was where Natalie’s bike lock was subsequently located, indicative of a struggle taking place. Her bike was found in a ditch near the entrance to the woods where the tent had been pitched.
  • Natalie arrived at the scene at 4.40am and does not make it into work.
  • At 5.06am, Pearson crossed the field to the tent location.
  • Pearson’s phone appears to drop off the network at 7.12am – having been powered down by him.
  • At 3.06pm, the phone powers on again at the tent location.
  • An unsuccessful video message was made to an American registered telephone number at 3.08pm, now known to be Pearson’s friend.

He said he blacked out after dragging her back to the tent and woke up hours later to find her purple and with foam around her mouth.

His barrister, John Elvidge, QC, conceded that Pearson – who was nicknamed Jesus by former workmates because of his long hair – was ‘a weed.’

He told jurors: ‘There is no suggestion that he behaved violently towards Natalie, there was no suggestion that he had ever laid a hand on her.

‘What happened to the weed for him to become a homicidal man?’

However the court heard that Natalie shook with fear when speaking about Pearson and was intimidated by him turning up at her workplaces after they had broken up.

She asked a caretaker at her second place of work, a college in Catterick, to intervene if he saw her talking to a man on her route home.

Natalie was reported missing by her worried family at 1.37pm on October 9 and North Yorkshire Police issued an urgent missing person appeal as her disappearance was judged to be completely out-of-character and could not be explained.

At 4.43pm, a call was made to the Force Control Room from Pearson’s mother.

She said her son had told her that the pair met up and had been walking together at around 4.30am when Natalie had accidently slipped and fell into a river and she pulled him in too.

She said Pearson, who told her he was camping in woodland across a field from the cycle path, pulled Natalie from the water and started CPR. He then took her to his camouflaged tent where he continued CPR. Pearson is a trained first-aider. 

He told his mother he must have passed out and when he woke up following a phone call from a friend in America, Natalie appeared to be dead.

It was at this point that he phoned his mother and they met with officers nearby.

Jurors were previously shown 'sarcastic, wounding and wholly false' posts that Pearson had put on Facebook (pictured) claiming Natalie had wronged him while he'd been 'a perfect gentleman'

Jurors were previously shown ‘sarcastic, wounding and wholly false’ posts that Pearson had put on Facebook (pictured) claiming Natalie had wronged him while he’d been ‘a perfect gentleman’

‘Only Pearson knows what motivated him to kidnap and murder her’ 

Detective Inspector Steve Menzies, of North Yorkshire Police’s Major Investigation Team, slammed the killer for refusing to answer questions during the police probe, or give passwords to his phone and computer devices, where crucial evidence was later found.

He added: ‘Only Pearson knows what motivated him to kidnap and murder her. Only he knows if it was through jealously or anger in refusing to believe that his relationship with Natalie was over for good.

‘What we were able to uncover was that he persistently stalked and harassed Natalie after she ended the relationship some weeks earlier. We have spoken to a number of Natalie’s friends and colleagues who she confided in about Pearson’s behaviour, including pleading text messages from him about wanting to get back together.

‘We now know that he had been following her and turning up at her work during the early hours of the morning. He had tried to discredit her character, including via social media, making out that he had been wronged by Natalie.

‘In actual fact, he was infatuated with her and refused to accept that she had ended their relationship.

‘Natalie was living in fear and was rightly advised by her friends on a number of occasions to report Pearson to the police, but she never got the chance.

‘We only hope that other people in a similar situation reading about this case, will seek the help and support that is readily available from the police and organisations such as Supporting Victims in North Yorkshire, IDAS and the National Stalking Helpline among a host of others.’

Pearson led the officers to the tent and they found Natalie under a camouflaged sleeping bag. She was not wearing any clothes.

Attending paramedics certified the death and Pearson was arrested soon after on suspicion of murdering Natalie.

Tesco worker Andrea Nolan said Pearson spoke to her about Natalie when he attended the store for a job interview. 

She told the court: ‘He said he hoped she lived to regret her decisions and life had a way of coming full circle.’

During the trial, jurors were shown ‘sarcastic, wounding and wholly false’ posts that Pearson had put on Facebook, claiming Natalie had wronged him while he’d been ‘a perfect gentleman.’ 

Pearson, of Catterick Garrison, was bitter that Natalie’s mother Deborah didn’t like him, complaining that because he was jobless she thought he was ‘a layabout.’

He was found guilty of both murder and kidnap. 

Natalie’s parents John and Deborah, and her brother Alistair, paid tribute to the tragic victim in a statement.

It read: ‘Nothing will ever ease the pain of losing Natalie in such a tragic way. She will always be in our hearts and thoughts.

‘We have lost a loving daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin and friend to many.

‘We thank the senior investigating officer, Detective Inspector Steve Menzies and his team, for all their hard work.

‘Also, for the support of Lisa Carter from Homicide Victims Support, and from everyone in Colburn, Catterick and the surrounding area.’

Detective Inspector Steve Menzies, of North Yorkshire Police’s Major Investigation Team, said: ‘Natalie Harker, a hardworking and conscientious young lady, set off from her family home in Colburn, Catterick, on 9 October 2019 to start work at 5am.

‘Unfortunately, she was never to arrive. Her ex-partner Andrew Pearson, a self-centred, calculating and evil man, had laid in wait for her down a pitch-black cycle path.

‘Evidence proved beyond any doubt that Pearson had planned the kidnap and murder Natalie, and the level of planning was extremely calculated and chilling.

‘He knew exactly what he was going to do that morning, and in the days before he had started to put his plan in to place.

‘He had even been near to the cycle path at 4.30am as Natalie cycled past in the days before, suggestive that he was carefully putting final preparations together for his ultimate attack upon her.

‘It is very clear that the account Pearson gave to his mother over the phone was concocted in an effort to escape justice; it was pure lies based on self-preservation and no thought for Natalie, nor indeed her family.

‘Whilst the incident appeared suspicious from the outset, the Major Investigation Team still had a significant amount of work to do to piece together the evidence and find the truth for Natalie’s devastated family.

‘The family have and continue to endure the most unimaginable pain and sense of loss. I praise them for the dignity and restraint that they have shown throughout the investigation and the trial.

‘No outcome at court can bring Natalie back to them and our hearts continue to go out to them.’

The detective slammed Pearson for refusing to answer questions during the police probe, or give passwords to his phone and computer devices, where crucial evidence was later found. 

He added: ‘Only Pearson knows what motivated him to kidnap and murder her. Only he knows if it was through jealously or anger in refusing to believe that his relationship with Natalie was over for good.

‘What we were able to uncover was that he persistently stalked and harassed Natalie after she ended the relationship some weeks earlier. We have spoken to a number of Natalie’s friends and colleagues who she confided in about Pearson’s behaviour, including pleading text messages from him about wanting to get back together.

‘We now know that he had been following her and turning up at her work during the early hours of the morning. He had tried to discredit her character, including via social media, making out that he had been wronged by Natalie.

‘In actual fact, he was infatuated with her and refused to accept that she had ended their relationship.

‘Natalie was living in fear and was rightly advised by her friends on a number of occasions to report Pearson to the police, but she never got the chance.

‘We only hope that other people in a similar situation reading about this case, will seek the help and support that is readily available from the police and organisations such as Supporting Victims in North Yorkshire, IDAS and the National Stalking Helpline among a host of others.

‘Please do not wait – we are here to help.

‘It is my belief that Andrew Pearson is a dangerous man and the public, particularly females, will be protected from him as he now starts a life prison sentence.’

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