Stalker who kidnapped ex and drowned her in woodland stream jailed for life

A jilted boyfriend who lay in wait for his ex before kidnapping and drowning her in a woodland stream has been jailed for life.

Andrew Pearson, 45, stalked Natalie Harker, setting up camp close to a secluded path she cycled along to get to work. He took photos of the scene and even conducted a dry run before ambushing her on October 9 last year.

After forcing the 30-year-old into the woods, near Colburn in North Yorkshire, he violently held her head underwater before carrying her lifeless body back to his camouflage tent, stripping her clothes off and having sex with her as she lay either dead or dying.

Pearson, of Catterick Garrison, was convicted of murder and kidnap at Teesside Crown Court and jailed for life with a minimum term of 24 years.

After the attack, the court heard Pearson messaged a friend in the US, saying: ‘Goodbye, I have killed Natalie, I’m going to hand myself in.’

He then spent 42 minutes chatting to them on a FaceTime call while Ms Harker’s bruised body lay next to him under a sleeping bag.

Despite his message, Pearson never confessed to the killing.

Instead, around 12 hours after abducting Ms Harker he tearfully phoned 999 claiming she had fallen into a stream and he had collapsed after dragging her out and trying to give first aid.

The court heard the couple had split weeks before the murder and Ms Harker, a popular and conscientious medical centre cleaner, had told family and friends she was scared of her ex who was pestering her by text.

Just two days before she died she told people at her church she was worried she was being followed.

Judge Stephen Ashurst said she tragically did not take their advice to contact the police, adding: ‘I tend to take the view that’s likely to be because Natalie thought the best of people.

‘She was trusting and naïve.’

Prosecutor Chloe Fairley told jurors Pearson knew Ms Harker’s routine of cycling to work and that she was frightened of the particular section of path where he lay in wait.

He had taken photos on his phone days before of keys sites and had set up a hidden woodland camp across a field from the abduction site.

Jailing Pearson, Judge Ashurst said only he knew precisely what happened when he killed her by holding her underwater while compressing her neck.

He said: ‘What happened thereafter was extraordinary.

‘You took her lifeless body into the tent, stripped her of her clothes which you then folded and took into another part of the tent.

‘Whether she was still breathing or not, you thought only of yourself, not just in the shock of the moment, but for hour after hour.’

He added: ‘I am persuaded that the sexual intercourse took place when Natalie was not conscious and may very well have been dead or dying at the time.’

The murder was aggravated by the fact she was a vulnerable woman with some learning difficulties and that he had stalked and kidnapped her.

In statements read out in court, Ms Harker’s brother Alistair and parents John and Deborah expressed the huge impact her murder had had on their tight-knit family.

Mr Harker, a school bus driver from Colburn, said: ‘Was she calling out for me, was she in pain?

‘These are questions I always ask myself.’

He said the family named a star after her, adding: ‘Each night we would look up and look for her.’

Her brother Alistair added: ‘I feel totally lost without Natalie, completely alone and abandoned.’

He said the family had been overwhelmed by the number of local people who told them they knew his sister and passed on kind words about her.

Outside court, Detective Inspector Steve Menzies, of North Yorkshire Police’s Major Investigation Team, said: ‘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.’

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