Andrew Lee Pearson 45, of Chestnut Crescent, Colburn, was sentenced at Teesside Crown Court (Friday 20 November 2020) after being found guilty following a three-week trial.
The victim was his ex-partner Natalie Eve Harker, aged 30, from Colburn Lane, Colburn, who had ended their 18 month relationship around two months earlier.
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.
Pearson has to serve a minimum 25 years’ imprisonment, less the time he has already been in custody since he was charged, before he can be considered for parole.
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 9 October 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 (pictured below) 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 15 October 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.
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.”
Statement from Natalie’s family
The following statement is from Natalie’s parents John and Deborah, and her brother Alistair.
“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.”
***Please note, the family have asked that their privacy is respected at this difficult time and they do not want to conduct any media interviews or be approached by the media***
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/