Nicola Bulley's partner 'shocked' over river search and 'doesn't think she went in', says diving expert

10 February 2023, 13:15 | Updated: 10 February 2023, 14:06

Nicola Bulley has been missing for two weeks
Nicola Bulley has been missing for two weeks. Picture: Alamy/Social media

By Emma Soteriou

Nicola Bulley's partner 'doesn't think she went in the river', a diving expert has said.

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Peter Faulding, who led the river search for the missing mum-of-two, said Paul Ansell was growing less convinced that the police theory that Ms Bulley fell in the river was right.

Ms Bulley was last seen in St Michael's on Wyre, Lancashire, at around 9.15am on January 27 walking her dog.

Police divers and private specialists have scoured the river near where she was last seen, but there has been no trace of her.

"[Mr Ansell] was shocked at how shallow the rocks were yesterday," Mr Faulding said.

"He thought it was really deep there. If she had gone in she would have landed on the rocks," he told the Sun.

"The family thanked us for being here. They said 'You've given us confidence now' and his belief is that Nicola has not gone in that river."

The search for the missing mother extended to the sea as it reached the end of the second week since she vanished.

Read more: Emotional appeal for Nicola: Friends of missing mum in roadside plea two weeks after she vanished

Partner of missing mother-of-two Nicola Bulley, Paul Ansell, (right) visiting the riverside with Peter Faulding
Partner of missing mother-of-two Nicola Bulley, Paul Ansell, (right) visiting the riverside with Peter Faulding. Picture: Alamy

A candlelight vigil was held for Ms Bulley at a local church as residents lined the streets to appeal for help.

Worried locals sat in The Parish Church of St Michaels on Wyre, next to the river which police have suspected she fell into, and lit candles for her.

A photo of her and her devastated partner was placed at the front.

Meanwhile, to mark two weeks since she vanished, people lined the sides of the road through St Michael's on Wyre, holding photos of her asking if anyone had seen her.

The signs ask anyone with dashcam footage or details to call 101.

Read more: Three CCTV blind spots could hold the key to Nicola Bulley's disappearance as police trawl dashcam footage

Officers have maintained their theory that Ms Bulley fell into the river, but they are also considering whether Ms Bulley could have left the area without being seen on CCTV.

A Lancashire Police spokesperson said: "People may have seen less police activity today than previously in the area of the river above the weir but that is not because we have stepped down our searches, it is because the focus of the search has moved further downstream into the area of the river which becomes tidal and then out towards the sea."

Residents lined the streets to appeal for information about Nicola
Residents lined the streets to appeal for information about Nicola. Picture: Alamy
Candles lit for missing Nicola Bulley
Candles lit for missing Nicola Bulley. Picture: LBC

At the same time, a 55-year-old woman told The Times that she had reported a red van to police on the day Ms Bulley went missing, and again on February 2.

"I was on my way to the cake shop when I saw a tatty red van in Hall Lane outside a barn," she said.

"I didn't think anything at the time, but when I saw Nicola had gone missing, I called 101 and spoke to an operator. I contacted the police again and spoke to a police officer.

"It could have been a Renault van. It was the sort of van you can live in."

A Lancashire Police spokesperson declined to comment on the claims, but said: "We have received a huge amount of information into the enquiry, all of which is being looked at, and we are extremely grateful to everyone who has assisted our investigation so far."

Nicola Bulley was last seen in St Michael's on Wyre
Nicola Bulley was last seen in St Michael's on Wyre. Picture: Alamy

It comes after diving specialist Peter Faulding, whose team were brought in to help with the search, pulled out of the search for Ms Bulley after completing the area they were tasked with searching.

He has reiterated his belief that Ms Bulley is not in the river, despite that remaining the primary hypothesis of Lancashire Police.

He said: "It's a total mystery for me, I really don't know. In all the searches I've done, this is one which will stick with me.

"Normally we get tasked with, you know, searching for a knife or a body and there's been a witness to a drowning or we've got really good intelligence.

"The sort of information we've got here is a mobile phone on a bench but we don't know anything else."

Read More: Amateur sleuths hunting Nicola Bulley banned from searching abandoned house after police warning

Ms Bulley's partner Paul Ansell made an emotional visit to the riverside yesterday where he was pictured chatting with Mr Faulding about his partner's disappearance.

Earlier this week, Mr Ansell said: "I have two little girls who miss their mummy desperately and who need her back.

"This has been such a tough time for the girls especially but also for me and all of Nicola's family and friends, as well as the wider community and I want to thank them for their love and support.

St Michael's on Wyre is around 11 miles from Knott End, where police are now searching the sea
St Michael's on Wyre is around 11 miles from Knott End, where police are now searching the sea. Picture: Google Maps
Nicola Bulley's partner Paul Ansell
Nicola Bulley's partner Paul Ansell. Picture: Alamy

"We are also really grateful to Peter and his team from SGI for coming up and helping support the work of Lancashire Police as they continue their investigation.

"If anyone has any information which could help find Nicola, I urge them to get in touch with the police and help us provide the answers we all so badly need."

It comes after Lancashire Police were forced to issue a dispersal order after a group of amateur sleuths travelled from Liverpool to search an abandoned house near where Nicola Bulley went missing.

On Wednesday night, Lancashire Police issued a dispersal order as a group of men wanted to search a house on the other side of the river where police said Ms Bulley fell into.

Nicola Bulley went missing nearly two weeks ago
Nicola Bulley went missing nearly two weeks ago. Picture: Getty

Earlier this week, superintendent Sally Riley warned police would not tolerate members of the public taking the law into their own hands.

She said: "We will not tolerate online abuse of anyone, including innocent witnesses, members of the family and friends, of local businesses, or of criminal damage or burglary. We will be taking a strong line on that, as you would expect."

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