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Underwater search expert Peter Faulding 'caused challenges' to Nicola Bulley investigation, say police
21 November 2023, 10:00 | Updated: 21 November 2023, 11:32
The diving expert who assisted search operations in the case of missing Nicola Bulley ‘caused challenges to the investigation’, a police report has found.
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The body of Ms Bulley, 45, a mother-of-two, was found in the River Wyre on February 19, about a mile from where she vanished, while walking her dog in St Michael's on Wyre, Lancashire, on January 27.
A review into the police handling of Nicola Bulley’s disappearance examined underwater search expert Peter Faulding's role as part of its report.
The review was commissioned to examine the effectiveness of the police response during the case earlier this year, which saw unprecedented levels of mainstream and social media interest.
Mr Faulding, leader of underwater search experts Specialist Group International (SGI), assisted search operations into the missing mother-of-two.
At the time of Ms Bulley’s disappearance, Mr Faulding suggested to the media that the police’s equipment was too ‘low-tech’ to detect a body.
After his comments, Ms Bulley’s family asked police for SGI to assist the case.
While police investigators were told they were able to secure the same equipment used by SGI, the force went ahead with the family’s request to prevent ‘negative press'.
The force wanted to avoid a negative perception that police were not using every opportunity to locate Ms Bulley, the report said.
Mr Faulding met with a chief inspector who provided “suitable, robust advice about the information he is passing to the media - unhelpful to the investigation, the family and wider community”.
The report also added that police appeared to have presented Mr Faulding with an NDA instructing SGI not to discuss the search with anyone outside the investigation - but SGI claimed that such an NDA had never been discussed or signed.
Mr Faulding alleged that he did not receive any instructions from police not to engage with the press and that his team had felt “ambushed” by the press, so he felt media involvement was "within the terms of engagement".
SGI carried out a sweep of the River Wyre a three-mile stretch of the river between St Michael’s and Cartford Bridge over two and a half days, using sonar equipment Mr Faulding described as “state of the art”.
The review, published on Tuesday, also found that Mr Faulding caused unwarranted distress to Ms Bulley’s family after he told them he believed he had identified the site of her deceased body.
"It is the view of Lancashire Constabulary that Mr Faulding had a significant impact on the investigation and public confidence through his activities and his engagement with the media,” the report said.
"The review team considers that some of his actions created a more challenging environment for the investigation team.
"His public statements often contradicted the investigative and operational approach, leading to confusion for the public and reducing the family's trust in the investigation and search operation."
In a statement, Mr Faulding said in response: “I take confidentiality very seriously and would never breach an NDA or disclose any confidential or protectively marked material. The only instructions I was given was to use discretion and keep operational information confidential.
“I was never given any operational information and never disclosed any (ie: location of a significant target). If at any time I was asked to stop updating the media, I would have immediately, but no request was ever made.”
An inquest into Ms Bulley’s death earlier this year ruled that the mother-of-two’s death was accidental.
The case received unprecedented levels of public interest and saw Lancashire police face backlash for publicising the details of Ms Bulley’s medical history.
Ms Bulley's family have said they continue to grieve her loss and do not want to comment on the report.