Killer Andrew Pearson has been sentenced to life in prison and told he must serve a minimum of 25 years for the kidnap and murder of ex-girlfriend Natalie Harker.
Pearson, 45, of Chestnut Crescent, Colburn, was sentenced at Teesside Crown Court today after being found guilty following a three-week trial yesterday.
Natalie Eve Harker, 30, from Colburn Lane, Colburn, was murdered on October 9 last year. She had ended her 18-month relationship with Pearson around two months earlier.
Passing sentence, Judge Stephen Ashurst told the defendant he had caused his victim to suffer a “lonely and undignified death”,
He told Pearson he had laid in wait for his victim, before forcing her to go into the woods. adding: “You and only you Andrew Pearson know the precise circumstance of how Natalie drowned in the stream and her neck was compressed.
“What happened thereafter was extraordinary. You took her life lifeless body into your tent, stripped her of her clothes which you then folded and put into another part of your tent and, 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.
“You could have summoned help even if that help could have done little for Natalie at that stage, but I am satisfied that you acted in a selfish way and for many hours you stayed in the tent with the lifeless body of Natalie next to you.”
The judge said he was has satisfied Pearson had planned to kidnap his former girlfriend.
“This was a case that did involve planning. It was not accident that you Andrew Pearson were there lying in wait for Natalie on the day concerned.
“It is clear the physical marks found on her body were consistent with a considerable struggle, together with some defensive injuries.
“You knew what Natalie’s routine was, you chose the location that was particularly secluded, you had set up your base within the woods and carefully planned certain aspects of what you were proposing to do.
“Your conduct towards Natalie meant that she died a lonely and undignified death.
“Your failure to find or seek any help for her at a time when she was gravely ill and facing death is a serious aggravating feature.
“The fact that having texted your friend in America, you were able to engage in a 42 minute Facetime call with a lifeless body next to you displays a remarkable degree of callousness towards a woman you said was the love of your life.”
The judge said it was a serious aggravating feature that the defendant had sex with his victim after she was either unconscious or already dead.
The judge said that one thing that shone out from the trial was how loved the victim was.
He added: “It’s clear from the victim impact statements from her grief stricken parents John and Deborah and her brother Alistair is that their loss is incalculable, but the loss to the wider community has also been very great indeed .
“Natalie, despite her start in life where she was unable to cope with mainstream education, did her best to make what she could of her life.”
He added: “There was something special about Natalie.”
North Yorkshire Police’s Major Investigation Team were able to prove that Pearson had carefully planned Natalie’s kidnap and murder.
Friends and colleagues of Natalie have since told the police that she had confided about being stalked and harassed by Pearson following the break-up, but she had tragically not followed advice to report him to the police.
Natalie’s heartbroken family have outlined the devastating impact this has had on their lives.
In his victim impact statement, Natalie’s dad John Harker told how life would never be the same again for the family following Natalie’s murder.
He said: “She was almost like my best friend. We would talk every morning before we both went to work. We would sit and have breakfast and a cup of tea before we left the house, which was our special time together.
“Since Natalie’s death I have struggled to sleep. I keep waking in the night expecting her to walk in the house. I expect to come down stairs on a morning and she’s sat there in the living room waiting for me with a cup of tea. When I come to the realisation that’s she not there it really hits me.
“It’s such a gut-wrenching feeling knowing that I will never get to speak with her or have these moments with her again.
“I constantly get images in my head of what Natalie was going through on the morning that she died. Was she calling out for me to help her? Was she in pain? These are questions I will always ask myself and wonder if I could have anything to help her.
“It’s a horrible feeling as a father, a parent, knowing that your child may have needed you but you weren’t there.”
Deborah, Natalie’s mum, said in her victim impact statement that Natalie was always making friends with people.
“Natalie and I would go to craft fairs together, shopping, for a coffee, we’d laugh with each other.
“Natale and I would go to the cinema together, girl flicks, the movies she wanted to see, we’d share popcorn and Natalie would invariably tip the popcorn over, which would make us laugh even more.
“Natalie loved celebrations. It was all in the celebration for. She loved over the top the top birthdays, Christmas, any occasion – all these things were so special to Natalie.
“Natalie said I was her best friend and I think we’d have gone on to be closer and closer.
“I know my daughter has died. I’ve seen her body and held a funeral in memory of her but I still feel she could walk through the door at any moment. This saddens me. Nobody should be having the funeral for their daughter that young. Initially, I found it hard to cry but now I cry all the time. ”
John Elvidge QC, mitigating, said there was no evidence of Pearson being violent towards Natalie when the couple were together.
He also disputed that Pearson had been “stalking” Natalie in the days before her death.
He also claimed that the killing had not been planned or pre-meditated.
Judge Ashurst sentenced Pearson to life for the murder with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of 25 years, less the 400 days the defendant had already spent in custody.
He was also sentenced to five years concurrently for kidnapping Natalie.
Background to the investigation
The Major Investigation Team concluded that Natalie had been ambushed by Pearson from the cycle path on Foss Way as she rode her bicycle to a cleaning job at Catterick Health Centre at around 4.40am on Wednesday, October 9, 2019.
Natalie had failed to turn up at the health centre at 5am, missed a medical appointment at 10am, and a further cleaning job at Risedale Community College at 3pm.
Natalie was reported missing by her worried family at 1.37pm that same day and North Yorkshire Police issued an urgent missing person appeal as her disappearance was judged to be completely out-of-character and could not be explained.
At 4.43pm, a call was made to the Force Control Room from Pearson’s mother.
She said her son had told her that the pair met up and had been walking together at around 4.30am when Natalie had accidently slipped and fell into a river and she pulled him in too.
She said Pearson, who told her he was camping in woodland across a field from the cycle path, pulled Natalie from the water and started CPR. He then took her to his camouflaged tent where he continued CPR. Pearson is a trained first-aider.
He told his mother he must have passed out and when he woke up following a phone call from a friend in America, Natalie appeared to be dead.
It was at this point that he phoned his mother and they met with officers nearby.
Pearson led the officers to the tent and they found Natalie under a camouflaged sleeping bag. She was not wearing any clothes.
Attending paramedics certified the death and Pearson was arrested soon after on suspicion of murdering Natalie.
Chilling evidence unearthed over weeks of intensive investigation
A Major Investigation Team inquiry was launched led by Detective Inspector Steve Menzies, the senior investigating officer.
Through dedicated work and the involving specialist experts, the Major Investigation Team unearthed significant and chilling evidence which resulted in Pearson being re-arrested on October 15 and charged with Natalie’s kidnap and murder.
The new evidence included:
Financial records: In the days leading up to Natalie’s disappearance and death, Pearson had used all of his Universal Credit – paid into his bank account on 30 September 2019 – to purchase camping equipment, knives, gaffer tape and supplies of food which were later found in the tent.
Photographs on mobile phone: The Digital Forensics Unit retrieved a series of photographs from Pearson’s mobile phone which were taken on 30 September 2019. They showed the cycle path, a locked gate leading into the field which led to the woods, a view from the cycle path towards the gate, the route across the field, over a barbed wire fence, through a thicket, the stream that needed to be crossed and the area where the tent was found. This demonstrated the fact that Pearson was, at that time, planning his attack upon Natalie following her refusal to rekindle their relationship.
Telecommunications data: The investigation team were able to plot both Pearson’s and Natalie’s movements on the morning of the kidnap and murder. This confirmed:
- Pearson had not in fact been camping out – he had left his home address three quarters of a mile away at 3.40am
- He arrived at the location of the kidnap and murder at 4am and got there via the gate at the top of the field. This was where Natalie’s bike lock was subsequently located, indicative of a struggle taking place. Her bike was found in a ditch near the entrance to the woods where the tent had been pitched
- Natalie arrived at the scene at 4.40am and does not make it into work
- At 5.06am, Pearson crossed the field to the tent location
- Pearson’s phone appears to drop off the network at 7.12am – having been powered down by him
- At 3.06pm, the phone powers on again at the tent location
- An unsuccessful video message was made to an American registered telephone number at 3.08pm, now known to be Pearson’s friend
The following text message was written, sent, delivered and then deleted to the American friend at 3.09pm: “Goodbye, I’ve killed Natalie I’m going to hand myself in”.
A minute later, Pearson had a 32 minute call with his American friend.
Then another 10 minute call at 3.42pm.
It took Pearson another 44 minutes before he called his mother at 4.26pm.
That call only lasted 19 seconds.
Pearson’s mother called the police at 4.43pm. He spoke to the Force Control Room briefly before officers arrived.
A recording of the 999 call can be heard here:
There were significant injures on Natalie’s body all of which suggest a case of violent drowning. Scientific findings indicate that sexual intercourse had taken place after Natalie was either unconscious or dead.
Detective Inspector Steve Menzies, of North Yorkshire Police’s Major Investigation Team, said: “Natalie Harker, a hardworking and conscientious young lady, set off from her family home in Colburn, Catterick, on 9 October 2019 to start work at 5am.
“Unfortunately, she was never to arrive. Her ex-partner Andrew Pearson, a self-centred, calculating and evil man, had laid in wait for her down a pitch-black cycle path.
“Evidence proved beyond any doubt that Pearson had planned the kidnap and murder Natalie, and the level of planning was extremely calculated and chilling.
“He knew exactly what he was going to do that morning, and in the days before he had started to put his plan in to place.
“He had even been near to the cycle path at 4.30am as Natalie cycled past in the days before, suggestive that he was carefully putting final preparations together for his ultimate attack upon her.
“It is very clear that the account Pearson gave to his mother over the phone was concocted in an effort to escape justice; it was pure lies based on self-preservation and no thought for Natalie, nor indeed her family.
“Whilst the incident appeared suspicious from the outset, the Major Investigation Team still had a significant amount of work to do to piece together the evidence and find the truth for Natalie’s devastated family.
“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.
“As for Pearson, it says everything about him as an individual that he refused to answer any questions throughout the police investigation. He refused to give his passwords to his mobile telephone and computer devices, on which crucial evidence was subsequently discovered.
“He refused to explain in his own words about what happened to Natalie and sat emotionless in the interviews with my specialist officers.
“Only Pearson knows what motivated him to kidnap and murder her. Only he knows if it was through jealously or anger in refusing to believe that his relationship with Natalie was over for good.
“What we were able to uncover was that he persistently stalked and harassed Natalie after she ended the relationship some weeks earlier. We have spoken to a number of Natalie’s friends and colleagues who she confided in about Pearson’s behaviour, including pleading text messages from him about wanting to get back together.
“We now know that he had been following her and turning up at her work during the early hours of the morning. He had tried to discredit her character, including via social media, making out that he had been wronged by Natalie.
“In actual fact, he was infatuated with her and refused to accept that she had ended their relationship.
“Natalie was living in fear and was rightly advised by her friends on a number of occasions to report Pearson to the police, but she never got the chance.
“We only hope that other people in a similar situation reading about this case, will seek the help and support that is readily available from the police and organisations such as Supporting Victims in North Yorkshire, IDAS and the National Stalking Helpline among a host of others.
“Please do not wait – we are here to help.
“It is my belief that Andrew Pearson is a dangerous man and the public, particularly females, will be protected from him as he now starts a life prison sentence.”
Natalie’s parents John and Deborah, and her brother Alistair, said in a statement released after the sentencing: “Nothing will ever ease the pain of losing Natalie in such a tragic way. She will always be in our hearts and thoughts.
“We have lost a loving daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin and friend to many.
“We thank the senior investigating officer, Detective Inspector Steve Menzies and his team for all their hard work.
“Also, for the support of Lisa Carter from Homicide Victims Support, and from everyone in Colburn, Catterick and the surrounding area.”
Stalking and harassment – seeking help and support
- Please do not hesitate to report incidents of stalking or harassment to North Yorkshire Police on 101. If you or someone you know are being threatened or in danger, always dial 999 for an emergency response.
- Supporting Victims in North Yorkshire – dedicated local service provided by the North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner – 01609 643100 / https://www.supportingvictims.org/
- IDAS – specialist charity in Yorkshire for domestic abuse and sexual violence – 03000 110110 / https://idas.org.uk
- National Stalking Helpline – 0808 802 0300 – run by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust – https://www.suzylamplugh.org/
- Paladin National Advocacy Service – 0203 866 4107 – https://paladinservice.co.uk/ – the only trauma informed national advocacy service for victims of stalking. They have independent stalking advocate caseworkers who can assist if you need specialist advice or support
- Protection Against Stalking – http://www.protectionagainststalking.org/
- Women’s Aid – Helpline 0808 2000 247 – https://www.womensaid.org.uk/
- Men’s advice line – Helpline 0808 8010 327 – https://mensadviceline.org.uk/