A former Tesco worker who ambushed his ex-girlfriend in the woods before drowning her and dragging her to a camouflaged tent has been jailed for life.
“Calculating and evil” Andrew Pearson waited for 30-year-old Natalie Harker to cycle past on her way to work before grabbing her and murdering her on 9 October.
He had sexual activity with her while she was passed out or dying, the court heard.
The couple had split up weeks before and Harker, of Colburn, North Yorkshire, had refused to get back with Pearson. She told people she was concerned about being followed, with Pearson turning up to her work in the early hours.
The 45-year-old denied harming Harker, telling 999 12 hours after she died that the two had gone for a walk in the woods but she slipped and fell into a stream.
He claimed he took so long to call – ultimately having his mother dial the number before he spoke to the operator – because he had passed out from shock.
Pearson then led a police officer to the body at a camouflaged tent.
However, a jury convicted him of kidnap and murder on Thursday and on Friday he was jailed for a minimum of 25 years.
Sentencing him, Judge Stephen Ashurst said only Pearson knew what happened after he held her underwater and compressed her neck.
“What happened thereafter was extraordinary,” the judge said.
“You took her lifeless body into the tent, stripped her of her clothes which you then folded and took into another part of the tent.
“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.”
He believed Harker did not contact police about Pearson because she “thought the best of people” and was “trusting and naive”.
The court heard Pearson knew her cycle routine and knew she was frightened of the path where he waited to attack her.
He set up a hidden camp in the woods across a field from where he kidnapped her, and police said he spent his benefits money on camping equipment and knives.
Teesside Crown Court heard he took pictures of the woodland scene days before the attack.
Prosecutors said Harker did not like dirt or insects and had a fear of stiles and barbed wire, making her unlikely to go for a walk in the woods in the dark.
She was also en route to work from her home in Colburn – next to Catterick, where Pearson is from – and it was a job she was conscientious of.
Andrew MacDonald, prosecuting, said the woodland was “hardly a romantic setting” and the court heard Pearson held Harker’s face underwater before dragging her to the camouflaged tent.
Mobile phone analysis showed he sent a message telling a friend in the US: “I have killed Natalie, I’m going to hand myself in”. The message was later deleted, the court was told.
He also spent 42 minutes on FaceTime to the same person, jurors heard.
An ex-colleague of Harker’s said Pearson said he “hoped (Harker) would live to regret her decisions and life has a way of coming full circle”.
Another said Harker confided that she was receiving “scary texts” from Pearson and his mother.
Detective Inspector Steve Menzies, of North Yorkshire Police, said:“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 of Natalie, and the level of planning was extremely calculated and chilling.”
Speaking of Harker’s family, he said: “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.
In a statement, brother Alistair and parents John and Deborah said: “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.”
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