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'We have to be strong': Nicola Bulley’s family 'brace for worst possible news' after body found
20 February 2023, 09:30
The family of Nicola Bulley have said they are in ‘agony’ after a body was found in reeds by the River Wyre less than a mile from where she disappeared on January 27.
Her Partner Paul Ansell, 44, and their daughters, six and nine, have held out hope that the 45 year old was still alive. Yesterday two walkers found the body of a woman tangled in reeds and her relatives are bracing for the ‘worst possible news’ as they await formal identification of the body. Police have not confirmed if it is Nikki.
When the body was found, a man could be heard telling police: “It was a body. It’s down there. It was a body of a woman. There is definitely a body down there.”
Police later confirmed the discovery and forensic tents were erected on the river bank.
Paul said: “No words right now, just agony. We're all together, we have to be strong," he told Sky News.
Wyre Council leader Michael Vincent told the Sun: “Nicola’s family and friends have been through hell.
“We are all waiting for official confirmation and if that comes it will be the worst possible news.”
Meanwhile a specialist search diver defended the efforts in the search for Nicola and denied giving the family 'false hope'.
Peter Faulding, who joined the police search for three days as a volunteer, previously said his team would have found her if she had fallen in the river.
Mr Faulding previously told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: "I don’t think she fell in the water. That's just my opinion with all the drownings I've dealt with over the years."
But he said it is "totally unfair" to suggest that his comments had given Ms Bulley's family false hope after a body was found less than a mile from where the mum-of-two went missing on January 27 near the River Wyre.
"When we searched that part, she was not laying on the bottom of the river, but we were only there for one day.
"We are going down with a boat towing the sonar. We're not searching reeds,” he said.
Police announced the discovery of a body near the river near where Ms Bulley disappeared on Sunday morning, over three weeks after she vanished.
Officers did not confirm that it was definitely Ms Bulley and said that they were working to identify the body.
Lancashire Police made the discovery in the River Wyre about a mile away from where Ms Bulley went missing on January 27.
Police said in a statement on Sunday: "This morning, Sunday, 19 February, you may be aware of police activity around the river near to St Michaels. We want to provide you with an update on that activity.
"We were called today at 11:36am to reports of a body in the River Wyre, close to Rawcliffe Road.
"An underwater search team and specialist officers have subsequently attended the scene, entered the water and have sadly recovered a body.
"No formal identification has yet been carried out, so we are unable to say whether this is Nicola Bulley at this time."
"Procedures to identify the body are on-going.We are currently treating the death as unexplained.
"Nicola’s family have been informed of developments and our thoughts are with them at this most difficult of times. We ask that their privacy is respected.
The update from police came after officers launched a massive search for Ms Bulley.
A male and female dog walker are said to have pointed out a spot in the River Wyre, less than a mile from where Ms Bulley went missing, before officers in two police cars drove down.
A police helicopter was seen circling above the area, and roads were closed off.
Senior investigating officer Rebecca Smith later arrived at the scene, with divers working in the river.
Ms Bulley vanished in St Michael's on Wyre in Lancashire on the morning of January 27 as she walked along a riverside towpath. Police maintained that their main working hypothesis was that Ms Bulley was in the river.
Lancashire Police brought in a senior detective from the National Crime Agency (NCA) this week, who most recently led a team of investigators in the case of murdered police community support officer Julia James, according to the Sunday Times.
The NCA investigator told Lancashire Police to bring in a squad of top experts, including a digital media specialist, forensic clinical psychologists, and a dog behavioural specialist, as they continue their search more than three weeks after she was last seen.
Officers were also criticised for their handling of Ms Bulley's case after revealing she had been suffering with "significant" alcohol issues in the months before her disappearance, brought on by her "ongoing struggles with the menopause".
But missing persons expert Charlie Hedges said that "nobody goes missing without a reason, and understanding what's going on in someone's life is very, very important".
At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Lancashire Police said Ms Bulley was being treated as a "high-risk" missing person with "specific vulnerabilities", but refused to elaborate further.
A spokesperson for the force later revealed that she had "suffered with some significant issues with alcohol" before she went missing.
"Nicola’s family continue to be our absolute focus and our thoughts remain with them," a spokesperson for Lancashire Police said.
The Home Office and Information Commissioner have since spoken to the force, while the Independent Office for Police Conduct has been in touch because Lancashire visited the family on January 10.
Sir Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan Police's chief commissioner, did not condemn Lancashire Police but said it was "rare" to release such details.
He told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast on Friday: "Any time you're releasing personal information you need to be very, very cautious.
Nick Ferrari speaks to Met Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley
"Is it absolutely necessary for a policing purpose to help achieve the aim of finding a missing woman?
"They've made that call, they've referred themselves to the IOPC, time will tell whether that was the right call in that circumstance.
"I don’t know what information they have in front of them investigating the case. So, we're all judging that from outside."Let's focus on finding her and let's see if the IOPC find that Lancashire got it right or got it wrong."