Andrew Pearson found guilty of kidnapping and murdering Natalie Harker

Andrew Pearson. Photo: Facebook.

Andrew Pearson has today been found guilty of the kidnap and murder of former girlfriend Natalie Harker.

The jury of five men and five women took less than an hour and a half to reach their verdicts at Teesside Crown Court.

The 45-year-old was told by Judge Stephen Ashurst that he was facing a mandatory life sentence.

The defendant will be sentenced tomorrow afternoon.

Over more than two weeks, the trial heard how unemployed Pearson had harassed and stalked 30-year-old Miss Harker before ambushing her as she cycled to work.

Miss Harker had broken up their relationship months previously, telling one friend she “couldn’t be doing with his issues”.

The court heard Pearson would follow her after the split, with Miss Harker telling colleagues to stop and check she was alright if they ever saw her with a man on the way to work.

Miss Harker also told friends and colleagues she was getting “scary” texts from her ex.

Natalie Harker.

One couple she met at a course at St Cuthbert’s Church in Colburn in the days before the murder suggested she speak to police, but Miss Harker declined.

A week before she died Miss Harker texted Pearson telling him: “Just leave me alone please”.

The court heard from numerous witnesses who said Miss Harker was a kind, hard-working and popular woman, who was described as a “breath of fresh air” by one colleague, with prosecutor Andrew MacDonald QC pointing out that she remained polite and courteous even when asking Pearson to stop pestering her.

In the early hours of October 9 last year, GPS signals from his phone showed that Pearson walked from his home in Catterick Garrison to a secluded cyclepath where he knew Miss Harker would pass by on her way to work at around 4.30am as she cycled to Catterick Village Health Centre.

Prosecutors said Pearson then waited until his former girlfriend cycled passed before “ambushing” her before taking her across a field and into nearby woods, known locally as Horse Park Wood, where he had previously set up a tent.

The court heard Miss Harker was “hard-working and conscientious” and would not have bunked off work to go walking in the woods, as claimed by the defendant, in a “million years”.

It is not clear how Pearson killed Miss Harker, but a pathologist said bruising was evidence she may have been strangled or had a ligature placed around her neck, while her face had also been submerged in water.

Pearson claimed in court that Miss Harker had tripped and fallen into a stream but prosecutors said this account was a “pack of lies”, with the defendant accused of making up his story to fit the evidence.

The court heard disturbing evidence that Pearson had sex with his victim on the day of her death, with prosecutors claiming it was likely this had occurred after she had died.

The jury was told that Pearson killed Miss Harker in the early hours of the morning, but it was not until that afternoon that the alarm was raised.

This occurred after the defendant had messaged a friend stating: “Goodbye. I’ve killed Natalie – handing myself in.”

He then spent more than 40 minutes talking online to a friend in the US before ringing his mother, who arrived and met Pearson at the nearby Walkerville Industrial Estate, from where she rang the police.

Police arrived to find Miss Harker’s naked body in the tent under a sleeping bag and arrested Pearson on suspicion of murder.

He later refused to answer police questions and would only give them access to his mobile phone when detectives sought a court order.

Pearson will be sentenced at 2pm on Friday.