Pressure grows on police after Nicola Bulley was found by dog walkers and it emerges police searched 5 miles away

21 February 2023, 07:58 | Updated: 21 February 2023, 08:42

The family of Nicola Bulley have released a heartbreaking tribute to the mum-of-two in which they said: "Nikki, we can let you rest now," after police confirmed that a body found in the River Wyre was that of the missing 45-year-old.
The family of Nicola Bulley have released a heartbreaking tribute to the mum-of-two in which they said: "Nikki, we can let you rest now," after police confirmed that a body found in the River Wyre was that of the missing 45-year-old. Picture: Alamy / Lancashire Police / LBC/PA

By Asher McShane

Calls are mounting for an independent inquiry into Lancashire Police’s handling of the search for Nicola Bulley after officers missed her body in the river for 23 days despite extensive search efforts.

Officers instead focused search efforts more than five miles from where her body was found.

Police deployed divers, helicopters, police boats, sonar equipment and sniffer dogs. But it was two members of the public who spotted her body on Sunday morning less than a mile from where she was last seen in St Michael’s on Wyre.

For the last two weeks, police search efforts were focused on the stretch of river leading to the estuary and the Irish Sea, 11 miles away. Last week, a police search adviser said the “priority area” was the estuary and out to sea.

Police boats were seen on Morecambe Bay and upstream of the river mouth, the Times reports.

Police officers walk past flowers and yellow ribbons tied to a bridge over the River Wyre in St Michael's on Wyre
Police officers walk past flowers and yellow ribbons tied to a bridge over the River Wyre in St Michael's on Wyre. Picture: Alamy

Former DCI Martyn Underhill, who served nine years as a police commissioner, said Lancashire Police has serious questions to answer about its search of the river - and 'nothing less' than an independent review would suffice. 

Police searched the river nearest to where Nicola went missing in the first days of the investigation, but moved the operation downstream following the arrival of Peter Faulding, a private search expert drafted in to help officers, on February 6.

He told LBC yesterday it was not in his remit to search reeds next to the river and that his search efforts were focused on what was below the surface.

Police search a section of the river where the body was found
Police search a section of the river where the body was found. Picture: Alamy

After her body was found, Nicola's family took aim at Sky News and ITV, whom they said had contacted them despite their appeal for privacy on Sunday.

"It is shameful they have acted in this way. Leave us alone now," the family said.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman yesterday said she is not satisfied with the force's explanations for revealing Ms Bulley's alcohol dependency and menopausal issues last Wednesday, after personally grilling Chief Constable Chris Rowley.

Nicola's family last night released a heartbreaking tribute to the mum-of-two in which they said: "Nikki, we can let you rest now," after police confirmed that a body found in the River Wyre was that of the missing 45-year-old.

Lancashire Police confirmed on Monday evening that the body pulled from the water was that of Ms Bulley.

Ms Bulley's family paid tribute to "the one who made our lives so special" before hitting out at the "absolutely appalling" media coverage of her disappearance.

In a statement read out by a Lancashire Police officer, the family said: "We will never be able to comprehend what Nikki had gone through in her last moments and that will never leave us," the family said in a statement.

"We will never forget Nikki - how could we? She was the centre of our world, she was the one who made our lives so special and nothing will cast a shadow over that."

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“Our girls will get the support they need from the people who love them the most.”

“The community support in St Michael’s, friends, neighbours and strangers has been nothing short of comforting and heart-warming. Friends you know who you are. Thank you.

“Our hearts truly break for others who have missing loved ones. Keep that hope alive.

'Nikki, you are no longer a missing person, you have been found' Nicola Bulley's family said in a statement read by Lancashire Police.
'Nikki, you are no longer a missing person, you have been found' Nicola Bulley's family said in a statement read by Lancashire Police. Picture: LBC / PA

“Finally, Nikki, you are no longer a missing person, you have been found, we can let you rest now.

Paying further tribute to her at the end of the statement, the family added:

Yellow ribbons adorn a bench, where Nicola Bulley's phone was found, next to the River Wyre in St Michael's on Wyre on February 20, 2023 in Preston, England.
Yellow ribbons adorn a bench, where Nicola Bulley's phone was found, next to the River Wyre in St Michael's on Wyre on February 20, 2023 in Preston, England. Picture: Getty

“To those who genuinely helped and supported us, privately, we thank you.

The family also questioned the role of some sections of the press during the investigation and accused the media of "misquoting and vilifying" Ms Bulley's partner Paul Ansell, as well as their relatives and friends.

Body found in river confirmed as Nicola Bulley

“It saddens us to think that one day we will have to explain to them (Ms Bulley’s children) that the press and members of the public accused their dad of wrongdoing, misquoted and vilified friends and family,” they said.

“This is absolutely appalling, they have to be held accountable. This cannot happen to another family.

“Do the press and other media channels and so-called professionals not know when to stop? These are our lives and our children’s lives.”

It is shameful they have acted in this way, they should leave us alone now These are our lives and our children’s lives"
It is shameful they have acted in this way, they should leave us alone now These are our lives and our children’s lives". Picture: Lancashire Police

The 45-year-old was last spotted on Friday, January 27, while walking her dog along a riverside footpath near St Michael's on Wyre, Lancashire.

The mother-of-two was missing for 23 days - a period of time which saw police and underwater search teams scour the stretch of the River Wyre and nearby Morecambe Bay extensively.

The mother-of-two was missing for 23 days having last been seen on January 27.
The mother-of-two was missing for 23 days having last been seen on January 27. Picture: Facebook

As part of the news conference Assistant Chief Constable Peter Lawson of Lancashire Police reflected on the identification.

"Today's development is not the outcome any of us would have wanted, but we hope that it can at least start to provide some answers for Nicola's loved ones, who remain foremost in our thoughts," Lawson added.

Officers closed a road near where Nicola was last seen before announcing a few hours later that a body had been discovered.The force had previously said the death was being treated as unexplained.

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