Home Secretary 'concerned' over police conduct in Nicola Bulley case as force refers itself to watchdog

17 February 2023, 01:36 | Updated: 17 February 2023, 01:50

Braverman is 'concerned' over police conduct
Braverman is 'concerned' over police conduct. Picture: Alamy/Social media

By Emma Soteriou

Home Secretary Suella Braverman is "concerned" over the police response in the Nicola Bulley case after the force referred itself to the watchdog.

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Ms Braverman piled pressure on the already under-fire Lancashire Constabulary over their probe into the missing mum-of-two.

She is understood to be "concerned" over the force's decision to reveal personal details about the 45-year-old mortgage adviser, including her recent struggles with alcohol and menopause.

The Home Office has since requested regular updates about the way in which police were handling the case, with a spokesperson saying: "Our thoughts are with Nicola Bulley's family at this incredibly difficult time.

"The Home Secretary and Policing Minister are receiving regular updates from Lancashire Police on its handling of this case, including why personal details about Nicola was briefed out at this stage of the investigation."

A source close to the Home Secretary told the Daily Mail: "She was concerned by the disclosure of Nicola Bulley’s personal information by Lancashire police and asked the force for an explanation, which came yesterday evening."

The force is understood to have told the Home Office that it made the move to put a stop to rumours circulating. But government sources said ministers were still not "wholly satisfied".

Read more: Nicola Bulley's family pleads for end to speculation as Lancashire Police refers itself to watchdog over case

Read more: 'Destroying her reputation': Lancashire Police slammed for Nicola Bulley for releasing Nicola Bulley's personal details

Retired police detective argues Lancashire police 'pushed' to announce Nicola Bulley alcohol issues

Ms Bulley's family said earlier on Thursday that efforts to find her were being taken off track by rumours about her personal life with partner Paul Ansell.

They defended the police decision to release details, saying they had to stop speculation - but admitted Ms Bulley would not want it to have been put out.

Following the backlash, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) confirmed that Lancashire Police had referred itself to the police watchdog over its visit to Nicola Bulley's family home on January 10.

An IOPC statement read: "This afternoon we received a referral from Lancashire Constabulary regarding contact the force had with Nicola Bulley on 10 January, prior to her disappearance.

"We are assessing the available information to determine whether an investigation into that contact may be required and if so, who should conduct that investigation."

The family's statement on Thursday afternoon: "It has now been three weeks since Nikki went missing. We, as a family, believe that the public focus has become distracted from finding Nikki, and more about speculation and rumours into her and Paul's private life.

"As a family, we were aware beforehand that Lancashire Police, last night, released a statement with some personal details about our Nikki.

Nicola's family called for an end to speculation
Nicola's family called for an end to speculation. Picture: Alamy

"Although we know that Nikki would not have wanted this, there are people out there speculating and threatening to sell stories about her. This is appalling and needs to stop.

"The police know the truth about Nikki and now the public need to focus on finding her.

Read more: Nicola Bulley timeline: Latest updates and events in the search for missing mother-of-two

"Due to the peri menopause Nikki suffered with significant side effects such as brain fog, restless sleep and was taking HRT [hormone replacement therapy] to help but this was giving her intense headaches which caused Nikki to stop taking the HRT thinking that may have helped her but only ended up causing this crisis.

"The public focus has to be on finding her and not making up wild theories about her personal life.

"Despite what some media outlets and individuals are suggesting, we are being updated daily and receive support from our family liaison officers.

Read more: YouTuber arrested and fined after he joined search for Nicola Bulley as cops clamp down on 'amateur sleuths'

"Nikki is such a wonderful daughter, sister, partner and mother and is missed dearly - we all need you back in our lives.

"Nikki, we hope you are reading this and know that we love you so much and your girls want a cuddle. We all need you home. You can reach out to us, or you can contact MissingPeople.org.uk. Don’t be scared, we all love you so very much."

Ms Bulley has been missing for nearly three weeks
Ms Bulley has been missing for nearly three weeks. Picture: Alamy

With Lancashire Police facing criticism from some quarters over the way the investigation has been carried out - and amid online conspiracy theories - the force issued a statement on Wednesday that revealed details about Ms Bulley's personal life.

It said: "Sadly, it is clear from speaking to Paul and the family that Nicola had in the past suffered with some significant issues with alcohol which were brought on by her ongoing struggles with the menopause and that these struggles had resurfaced over recent months.

"This caused some real challenges for Paul and the family.

Paul Ansell has said he does not think she is in the river
Paul Ansell has said he does not think she is in the river. Picture: Alamy

"As a result of those issues, a response car staffed by both police and health professionals attended a report of concern for welfare at Nicola’s home address on January 10th.

"No one has been arrested in relation to this incident, but it is being investigated."

The IOPC said: "Following information that was made public by Lancashire Constabulary yesterday, we have made contact with the force to determine if a referral to the IOPC may be required."

Assistant Chief Constable Peter Lawson (left) and Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith of Lancashire Police update the media
Assistant Chief Constable Peter Lawson (left) and Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith of Lancashire Police update the media. Picture: Alamy

Read more: Nicola Bulley's family 'in pieces' as search expert shocked at cops telling public about her alcohol struggles

The disappearance has caused a rife of online conspiracy theories and led to amateur sleuths and social media personalities descending on the quiet village to "investigate" what happened.

Ms Bulley went missing on January 27 as she walked her dog on a towpath near the River Wyre in St Michael's on the Wyre in Lancashire.

Police have primarily focused on the theory entered the water near a bench where her phone was found.

But searches near the bench and downstream have not found her in that time. Mr Ansell has claimed he does not believe she is in the water.

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