Shabby van, hooded men or fell in the river: Five theories about what happened to Nicola Bulley

13 February 2023, 15:24 | Updated: 13 February 2023, 15:49

The search for Nicola Bulley continues
The search for Nicola Bulley continues. Picture: Alamy/Handout

By Will Taylor

Nicola Bulley's devastated family is no closer to finding out what happened to her as the search for her enters its third week.

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Experts have searched the River Wyre in Lancashire but found no sign of her since she vanished while walking her dog in the fields near St Michaels on Wyre on January 27.

No new evidence about what happened to the mother-of-two has emerged, triggering speculation over what happened.

The case has even attracted amateur sleuths – forcing police to tell them to leave – and clairvoyants, which have not helped the plight of Ms Bulley's partner Paul Ansell and their two young daughters.

Police continue to work on the theory she fell into the river, but others have suggested alternatives.

Nicola Bulley has been missing for more than two weeks
Nicola Bulley has been missing for more than two weeks. Picture: Handout

Fell in the river

Police have primarily worked on the theory that Ms Bulley fell into the Wyre.

Her spaniel was found without a harness and her mobile phone was left on a park bench connected to a Microsoft Teams call.

There was speculation over whether something happened with the dog that caused the mortgage adviser to spring into action, end up by the river and then fall in.

Read more: Witness 'saw two hooded men hiding their faces near Nicola Bulley's dog walking route' the day before she vanished

But not everyone is convinced.

Peter Faulding, who describes himself as an expert in searching, and used a sonar to sweep part of the Wyre, said he would expect her to have been found by now.

"Normally when a person drowns, if they are left a number of days they don't move very far," he said.

Wellwishers left ribbon tributes to Ms Bulley
Wellwishers left ribbon tributes to Ms Bulley. Picture: Alamy

"This is not a fast tidal river. So I would have expected her to be found by the police divers by now."

Gone to sea

The absence of any sign of Ms Bulley has led to suggestions she might have been swept away by the current and taken downstream to the sea.

The Wyre empties into Morecambe Bay and the Irish Sea.

Police have started searching closer to the sea but are yet to find her.

Shabby red van

It has been reported one of the lines of inquiry police are following is a "tatty-looking" red van.

Partner of missing mother Nicola Bulley appeals to public for more information

A man in his 50s who lives in the area reported the vehicle – possibly a Renault or Ford Transit – was parked near a barn not far from the fields where Ms Bulley vanished.

He said he had reported it to the police twice, and a second witness is also said to have told police they saw the van in the area.

"It was a shabby looking van, an older model, the kind you can live or work in," the unnamed first witness said.

Read more: First pictures of Natasha Johnston, dog walker mauled to death by dogs at Surrey beauty spot

"It was on a quiet lane near a barn, with a couple of houses dotted around."

He added that while he had no idea if it was connected to Ms Bulley's disappearance, he felt compelled to tip off officers about it.

Ms Bulley's friends and worried residents have tried to appeal to drivers coming through the village who may have seen anything that can help the investigation.

Police continue to search along the Wyre
Police continue to search along the Wyre. Picture: Alamy

Hooded men

A witness saw two hooded men trying to hide their faces near where she vanished.

He told The Sun: "I first saw the men at around 7.45am on my way to work on the Thursday, the day before Nicola Bulley vanished. I drive that way every day, so know the road well.

"I saw two men wearing dark clothing and hoods or hats and ­carrying fishing rods. They could have been just two normal fishermen — and if I had seen their faces I probably wouldn't have thought anything of it.

"I remembered that they seemed to want to hide their faces, which struck me as odd. It wasn't particularly cold that day — it was quite mild, so their behaviour, to me, seemed strange.

"At first I thought they must be poachers. You do get poachers on the river, and they don't want to be seen.

"Obviously at that moment a woman hadn't gone missing so I didn’t think anything more of it."

He said he believes he saw the hooded men again on the day she went missing.

"It was around the same time, 7.45am. This time it was just a glimpse, but I definitely saw one of them. I think I saw the second man, who was way ahead of the other, but I have been going over it a lot in my mind and I couldn't swear my life on it.

"Again, the man I saw was carrying a fishing rod and covering his face."

He added: "I was away all that weekend so only heard about Nicola Bulley going missing on Sunday. I saw the police were appealing for information and it struck me that I should tell them what I saw, so I rang them on the Monday."

No one got back to him, he said, so he called again a week later. Police took his statement on February 8 and officers are now investigating.

Left the area by CCTV blindspot

Police are also looking into a path that falls in a CCTV blindspot and leads from the river to Garstang Road, which runs through the village.

With two possible exits from the river path, police remain confident Nicola didn't leave the river route via Rowanwater, with CCTV covering the exit and a nearby mobile home site.

However, friends have since claimed that CCTV covering the other exit, just south of the mobile home site, was not working at the time.

This camera, if working, would have also covered the fields to the south of where Ms Bulley was last seen.

A third blindspot is a riverside path leading from the Wyreside Farm Caravan Park through to the A586.

It's also believed that a camera at a house close to the path was not working at the time, however, this did not cover the exit so would have been of little use.