Nicola Bulley's family 'in pieces' as search expert shocked at cops telling public about her alcohol struggles

16 February 2023, 10:08 | Updated: 16 February 2023, 10:10

Peter Faulding (top right) said his investigation would have been different if the newly-released information had been given to him earlier
Peter Faulding (top right) said his investigation would have been different if the newly-released information had been given to him earlier. Picture: Alamy/Social media

By Will Taylor

The search specialist who scanned the River Wyre for missing Nicola Bulley says the family is "in pieces" as he slammed police for not sharing details of her recent struggles.

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Peter Faulding believes relatives could not say that Ms Bulley had been struggling with alcohol and menopause before her disappearance, having been told to communicate through police instead.

Lancashire Police has been criticised for revealing the mother-of-two's problems and Mr Faulding said the scope of his own investigation – in parallel to officers' – would have been changed with that information.

"I spoke to Paul [Ansell, Nicola's partner] two days ago. I haven't been able to get hold of him since," Mr Faulding told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast.

Read more: 'Surprising and unusual' cops revealed Nicola Bulley's 'significant alcohol issues' and difficulty with menopause

"I think the man’s absolutely in pieces. The whole family is in pieces.

"They were not told to avoid the media, they were told, if they wanted to communicate, they would go through the police.

"And I can see that reason why now, because Paul never told me about Nicola's potential problems, or the family didn't.

"So I think they were probably told not to mention that. But it would have been useful if we had known."

Peter Faulding would've changed search strategy if he was aware of Nicola Bulley's alcohol issues

Mr Faulding, the CEO of search firm Specialist Group International, scanned the river near to the bench where Ms Bulley is thought to have potentially entered the water on the morning of January 27 in St Michael's on Wyre.

But he finished his search, which included a boat and a sonar device, after saying she was not in the water.

Police said on Thursday: "Sadly, it is clear from speaking to Paul and the family that Nicola had in the past suffered with some significant issues with alcohol which were brought on by her ongoing struggles with the menopause and that these struggles had resurfaced over recent months."

Read more: Nicola Bulley's family home was visited by police two weeks before disappearance due to 'significant alcohol issues'

Mr Faulding described that as a "knee-jerk reaction" and said police should have briefed him on her "high risk" status before as it would have changed how he investigated her case.

"I was shocked when I heard this, because it would have been useful if we had been given that information in the first place," he said.

"The investigation – I don't want to beat the police up, as me, from all the calls I'm getting, it's the communication."

Peter Faulding believes Nicola Bulley's family were told to 'not mention' her alcohol issues.

"The police are working hard, it's just the way its being communicated.

"People are beating the police up, the family are distraught, and that information should not have been released at all."

He added: "We were briefed by the police search advisers, so we were working under them. We were told, categorically, that she had more than likely just slipped into the river where we were searching.

"It was only two feet deep of water, onto rocks, and I said on day one, this is a mystery because we work on so many of these and she's not in that part of the river at all.

"It's changed the search strategy, she just could've wandered off, been in a dazed state of mind.

"She could've swam over the weir, because when people try and drown themselves they float for a while, which means she could have drifted down and over the weir and then disappeared out to sea."

Mr Faulding said Ms Bulley is not around the bench she vanished from nearly three weeks ago.

But he would like to try another search, including on land.

Paul Ansell is "in pieces" over Nicola Bulley&squot;s disappearance
Paul Ansell is "in pieces" over Nicola Bulley's disappearance. Picture: Social media

He said that if she has gone into the river she is "miles downstream" and the chances of finding her in the river are "remote".

The decision to release details on Ms Bulley's recent problems, which police said have affected the family, has been controversial.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper told LBC: "I was very surprised and I don't understand the reasons for it.

"I wouldn't want to comment further without knowing the decisions Lancashire Police have taken, and I know they are dealing with a complex case and they've had lots of social media speculation around it.

"But it was a very unusual thing to do, so it does obviously raise some significant concerns.

"I think, look, the most important thing to do is to support Nicola's family and to support the continuing investigation into what has happened."

Police said they released the information in response to misinformation about the case, which officers have complained about.

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