Natalie Harker confided in a workmate weeks before her death that she was being “followed” and “feeling trapped” by the man now accused of her murder, a court has heard.
The 30-year-old told Joanne Humphries of the anxiety she felt in her relationship with Andrew Pearson, 45.
Ms Humphries said she appeared worried about the defendant and offered to be there for her if she needed someone to talk to.
Within three months of their conversation he had murdered Natalie, lying in wait for her as she cycled to her work at a medical centre at 4.30am on October 9 last year, it is alleged.
Teesside Crown Court has been told the defendant held her by the neck with her face immersed in the water of a shallow stream and left her naked body in a tent he pitched in an impromptu camp for 12 hours.
Ms Humphries said she knew Natalie because she worked as a receptionist at the same workplace, Catterick Village Health Centre and had known her since March last year.
She described a conversation they had in July, saying: “I got the feeling there was something she was not telling me but given time she probably would.
“She said she was having issues and that she was basically being followed about, that was the way it came across. She said it was her boyfriend but didn’t mention his name.”
She added: “He used to meet her outside the health centre every day on his bike and go back home with her on her bike.
“I told her if she needed anyone to talk to I’d be there to help her.”
She said on her way to work she’d see the defendant either riding in front of or behind Natalie on his bike.
The trial had earlier heard that Mr Pearson had “pestered” an elderly neighbour of Natalie’s about her whereabouts after she had dumped him following a solo holiday she took to Saltburn-by-the-Sea.
Jobless Mr Pearson didn’t have the money to go on holiday with her and told people that Natalie’s mother thought he was a “layabout.”
Ms Humphries was involved in a conversation between Natalie and Mr Pearson in which her moving out of her parents’ home in Colburn was discussed.
Natalie said she didn’t want to move in with Mr Pearson because his bedsit was too small for her belongings, adding that he couldn’t afford a bigger place.
Ms Humphries said: “I could tell by his body language and his facial expression that he was not happy at all.”
She added that Natalie, a committed member of an evangelical church, was a hard-working, punctual cleaner who held down two jobs, the first of which began at 5am.
She said: “She was like clockwork, she rode her bike to work whatever the weather and I never knew her to take time off.”
The defendant told police that as she cycled to work in the darkness on the day of her death she agreed to go for a walk with him near the stream in the woodland area.
The court was played a 999 call in which he sobbed as he told the operator – 12 hours after her death – that Natalie had slipped and fallen into the stream, dragging him down with her.
He had, he claims, performed CPR before blacking out himself and woke hours later to find her “purple.”
PC Laura Haley told the court of her “shock” to be led to Natalie’s body by a distressed Mr Pearson once the alarm had been raised.
He led her across the stream and through fields where she came across Natalie’s bike, eventually showing her the tent, which she unzipped.
PC Haley said: “There was something under a sleeping bag, I pulled back the sleeping back and saw a woman, she was naked.
“I pulled the sleeping bag down to her shins and she didn’t have any clothing on at all, she was lying on her back.
“She was cold and I could not feel a pulse.”
She said Natalie’s arm was at a 90 degree angle and it appeared that sufficient time had passed since her death for rigor mortis to have set in.
PC Haley said the discovery of the body of Natalie, who had been reported as a priority missing person, had left her “feeling shocked.”
The court also heard today how Mr Pearson told a Tesco worker he hoped Natalie “would live to regret her decisions.”
He went back to the store where he had previously worked for a job interview and began talking to customer service worker Andrea Nolan,
who said she found him “odd.”
Mr Pearson, she said, began a conversation with her as he stood waiting for his interview.
Without her asking, he said his relationship was “on the rocks” and said he thought his girlfriend – who he named as Natalie – was seeing another man.
Mrs Nolan said he described her as “a bit of a one.”
She told Teesside Crown Court: “He said he hoped she lived to regret her decisions and life had a way of coming full circle.”
Other friends and colleagues of Natalie told of her worries about Pearson following their split.
Pamela Gavin, who also worked as a cleaner, told the court: “She said her boyfriend was sending text messages that had made her scared. I told her to tell her dad and he’d maybe go to the police station about it.”
Gary Palmer, caretaker at the college where Natalie worked her afternoon shift, described her as “a lovely girl, very conscientious, thorough, polite and generally very nice.”
He said about a month before he death Natalie had turned to him for help as she was about to cycle home after work.
Mr Palmer said: “I was finishing my shift when she came to me and said ‘can you do me a favour, if someone stops me on the hill can you just stop and make sure I am OK.’
“She said she was having trouble with her ex but didn’t say what it was. I did think what she said was a bit odd.”
A former worker at Tesco, where Pearson had worked in the past, said he was nicknamed Jesus because at the time he sported long hair and a beard.
Mr Pearson, of Brompton-on-Swale, North Yorks, who met Natalie when they both worked at Tesco in Catterick, denies her kidnap and murder.
The trial, expected to last two weeks, continues.