Man accused of kidnap and murder of ex-girlfriend claims they were looking for animals

Andrew Pearson. Photo: Facebook.

A man accused of kidnapping and murdering his ex-girlfriend has told a jury the pair went for a walk to look for animals on the day she died.

Andrew Pearson said former partner Natalie Harker voluntarily went with him on the morning of her death on October 9 last year, and died after falling in a stream.

Mr Pearson, 45, was giving evidence at Teesside Crown Court where he is standing trial for the alleged kidnap and murder of the Colburn 30-year-old.

The defendant told the court he met Miss Harker on a bridleway near the Walkerville Industrial Estate by “happenchance” while he was in the area taking supplies to a tend he had in nearby Horse Park Wood.

He said the pair climbed over a gate and went for a walk, telling the court: “It was the type of thing we enjoyed – to see if we could see any animals and whatnot.

Mr Pearson said the pair started having sex in the wood but stopped.

He added: “We just started giggling because it was cold and uncomfortable.”

The accused told the court Miss Harker fell down a bank and into a stream, pulling him with her, as they were walking back to the bridleway.

He said: “I remember grabbing the top of her arm and tried to pull her over so her orientation wasn’t face in the water. I was just totally panicking.. shouting ‘Natalie’.

“I managed to get her to the side of the water. At one point I remember grabbing her leg to swing her around. We were like half in half out of the water.”

The defendant said he gave Miss Harker CPR and said he thought she was still breathing when he put her on a piece of tarpaulin and dragged her back to the tent, including pulling her over a rabbit netting fence.

Mr Pearson said he took Miss Harker’s clothes off as they were wet and then he “passed out”.

The court has heard the defendant’s phone was switched off at 7.16am that morning.

The phone was then switched back on at 3.06pm later that day.

Shortly afterwards, the accused sent a message to a friend in the US.

The message said: “Goodbye. I’ve killed Natalie – handing myself in.”

Asked why he had later deleted the message, Mr Pearson said: “As soon as I sent it I realised that didn’t sound right.”

Under cross examination from Alistair MacDonald QC, Mr Pearson was again asked why he had sent the message.

“You were confessing to (the friend) Mr Garrity in plain terms that you had killed Natalie weren’t you?” said Mr MacDonald.

The defendant replied: “No I was not. I could never hurt Natalie.”

He added that he meant that he had tried to save Miss Harker but had failed.

The court heard that after sending the message, the defendant then had a FaceTime conversation with the friend for more than 42 minutes.

The defendant told the court this morning that he had tried to show Miss Harker’s body to his friend via FaceTime as the friend didn’t believe that he had killed her.

Mr MacDonald asked: “Did it not cross your mind for one second that Natalie’s family would, at that stage, be absolutely frantic and distressed?

“It’s someone worst nightmare that someone’s daughter or sister goes missing, as you were having your conversation with Mr Garrity for 42 minutes.”

The defendant did not answer, instead asking the judge if they could take a break.

The court heard Miss Harker had set off to cycle to work at Catterick Village Health Centre on the morning of her death, but never arrived.

Mr MacDonald suggested to the defendant that Miss Harker wouldn’t “have bunked off work to have sex with him in the woods in a million years”, as the accused claimed.

The accused said he wasn’t aware Miss Harker was bunking off work.

The court heard a number of photos were found on the defendant’s phone of the path where prosecutors say Mr Pearson intercepted Miss Harker and the woodland where her body was found.

Mr MacDonald, who at one point suggested the defendant was telling a “pack of lies”,  suggested they were taken by the defendant when he was “scouting” the area where he was planning to kidnap Miss Harker, which the accused denied, claiming they were taken for posting on YouTube as part of his interest in bushcraft.

Asked why he didn’t dial 999 after he claimed he had pulled Miss harker from the stream, the defendant suggested he was worried his phone might fall in the water

He later added: “My thought was to dial 999 once we were back in the tent.”

Mr Pearson was also asked about a text Miss Harker had sent days before her death which stated: “Please just leave me alone.”

The defendant said he thought it might not not have been sent by his former girlfriend.

Asked why Miss Harker had not simply got up out of the water after the fall, the accused suggested she may have swallowed some water.

Mr Pearson, 45, of Brompton-on-Swale, denies both charges.

The trial continues.