A murder suspect told police his ex-girlfriend died after falling in a river when they were on a walk.
But prosecutors say Andrew Lee Pearson “ambushed” Natalie Harker as she was cycling to work at 4.30am near Foss Way, Colburn, before holding her head under water by her neck.
He then left her body in a tent for 12 hours before police were finally alerted by his mother.
Mr Pearson, 45, of Honey Pot Road, Brompton-on-Swale, appeared at Teesside Crown Court today on the first day of his trial for the kidnap and murder of the 30-year-old.
He denies both charges.
The court heard Natalie’s naked body was found under a sleeping bag in a tent belonging to the defendant in Horse Park Wood, near Colburn, on October 9 last year.
Police were alerted after the defendant’s mother, Susan Pearson, had called 999 to say her son thought his girlfriend had died.
The court heard the 999 call made by Mrs Pearson who said her son had told her he and Natalie had gone for a walk at 4.30am and she had fallen in the river.
She said her son had tried CPR “over and over and over again” without success.
The court heard the 999 call was not made until after 4.30pm on the day Natalie went missing after she had set off to cycle to work at Catterick Village Health Centre.
The full 999 call was played to the jury, with the defendant then speaking to the call handler after his mother.
He sobbed as he told the operator: “We met down this lane. I have been camping for a few days just to chill out in this woodland area.
“I met Natalie and we went for a walk.
“There is an open area and as we were going down there she must have slipped and, like, dragged me because I remember hitting my back. I realised she was in the water and I dragged her out.
“I am first aid trained so I did what I could. I thought she was breathing. I knew my tent was nearby so I dragged her into it.
“I thought she was OK, I stripped her off, I got a blanket and I must have passed out. I woke up and she was purple.”
The court heard there was a stream running through the wood near where Mr Pearson’s tent was found.
Body camera footage show to the jury revealed that the water only came up to the police officer’s ankles as they walked through towards the tent.
Tests showed Natalie had suffered bruising to the neck and her nose and mouth had been submerged in water, although there was no evidence she had suffered a head injury, despite the defendant’s claim she had banged her head when she felt into the stream.
The court heard the defendant had had sex with the victim on the day of her disappearance, but prosecutors said it was not clear if this had taken place before or after she died.
Alistair MacDonald QC, prosecuting. said Natalie had lived a sheltered life and “in many ways was vulnerable”.
The victim and the accused had had a relationship which lasted 18 months, but ended in August 2018.
He said it was the prosecution case that the accused had “laid in wait” for Natalie, who was described as a “creature of habit”, before killing her.
Alistair MacDonald, QC, prosecuting, told the court Pearson had been living for days in the woods and pitched his tent at the spot where he knew Natalie would be passing on her bike.
He said: “Natalie Harker set off to work at 4.30am a fit and healthy person.
“The injuries she suffered and her death were anything but natural. They were caused, we say, by this defendant who applied pressure to her neck and prevented her from raising herself or her head from immersion in water.
“It is that combination of immersion and injuries to her neck that caused her death.
“Natalie lived a sheltered life and was vulnerable. She had been in a sexual relationship for about 18 months with the defendant which had ended towards the end of August 2018.
“It is the prosecution’s case that this defendant lay in wait for Natalie. He pitched his tent at a place he knew she would pass on her way to work.
“He took advantage of the fact that he knew she was a creature of habit and he killed her.”
The trial continues.