'We have no evidence': Missing Nicola Bulley's friend joins family in questioning police theory she fell in river

4 February 2023, 14:11 | Updated: 4 February 2023, 15:36

Nicola Bulley&squot;s sister says there&squot;s "no evidence" that the missing woman (L) fell into the river, in response to a police hypothesis revealed at a press conference.
Nicola Bulley's sister says there's "no evidence" that the missing woman (L) fell into the river, in response to a police hypothesis revealed at a press conference. Picture: Alamy/Social media

By Chris Samuel

Nicola Bulley's friend has joined her family in saying there is "no evidence" to back the police theory that she fell into the river.

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Nicola Bulley, a 45-year-old mother-of-two, went missing over a week ago while walking her Spaniel alongside the river in St Michael's on Wyre, Lancashire. She was dialled in to a work conference call at the time.

Officers said they believed Ms Bulley was in the riverside area when she went missing and had remained in the area.

But Ms Bulley's friend, Emma White, said that the "police hypothesis is on limited information".

"When we are talking about a life we can't base it on a hypothesis - surely we need this factual evidence," she said.

"That's what the family and all of us are holding on to - that we are sadly no further on than last Friday.

"We still have no evidence, and that's why we're out together in force."

Ms White added to Sky: "You don't base life on a hypothesis."

Police scouring the area on Saturday
Police scouring the area on Saturday. Picture: Alamy

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It comes after Louise Cunningham, Nicola's sister, posted on Facebook asking the public not to give up sharing information and called on everyone to "keep an open mind".

Superintendent Sally Riley revealed on Friday that the police's main hypothesis is that she accidentally fell into the River Wyre in Lancashire on Friday morning last week and that "this is not suspicious but a tragic case of a missing person".

But on Friday evening, Nicola's sister said: "Please keep sharing my Nikki …Off the back of the latest Police media update, please can I add there is no evidence whatsoever that she has gone into the river, it’s just a theory.

"Everyone needs to keep an open mind as not all CCTV and leads have been investigated fully, the police confirmed the case is far from over."

Police say they are focusing on a ten-minute window between 9.10am and 9.20am. Officers said an unprecedented amount of work had gone into the search.

Superintendent Sally Riley of Lancashire Constabulary said: "The inquiry team has undertaken a number of dashcam, CCTV and ring doorbell footage. This has allowed us to eliminate any trace so far of Nicola having left the riverside, which is really important.

"We believe that Nicola was in the riverside area and remained at the riverside area. We remain open to any inquiries that might lead us to question that, but at this time we understand that she was by the river.

Retracing Nicola Bulley's steps

"Our main working hypothesis therefore is that Nicola has sadly fallen into the river, that there is no third party or criminal involvement and that this is not suspicious, but a tragic case of a missing person.

"This is particularly important because speculation otherwise can be really distressing for the family and for Nicola's children."

Superintendent Riley also gave a list of clothing and accessories that her officers are searching for in the hunt for Ms Bulley

She told reporters on Friday: "I do have an update on the clothing that Nicola was last seen wearing, and this is something that the public who live in the area, or who walk their dogs on the river path near to St Michael's or downstream of St Michael's towards Morecambe Bay, can look out for.

Nicola Bulley with her dog.
Nicola Bulley with her dog. Picture: Lancashire Police

"They are an ankle-length black quilted gilet jacket, a black Engelbert Strauss waist-length coat which was worn underneath the gilet, tight-fitting black jeans, long green walking socks tucked into her jeans, ankle-length green Next wellies, a necklace and a pale blue Fitbit.

"It's really important that the public pay heed to those very specific clothing descriptions please, because factual sightings of those items would be very useful to us."

She added: "I would also appeal to the public to keep themselves safe in this inquiry. People going out at night in the darkness could fall into the river and face other hazards.

"Likewise, if they go out in boats on the river, please only do so if you've got experience in that."

Supt Riley said Ms Bulley's disappearance had "understandably caused a huge amount of concern and upset in the local community, as well as being an absolutely awful time for her family."

She added: "As a mum I can’t begin to imagine the suffering they are going through. We are supporting them as best we can and keeping them updated on our efforts to try and find Nicola."

Specialist teams from Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service search for Nicola, February 2, 2023.
Specialist teams from Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service search for Nicola, February 2, 2023. Picture: Alamy

Supt Riley went on: "We have done a huge amount of work both in terms of searches of the area as well as extensive enquiries which have been going on behind the scenes and based on that work we are as sure as we can be that Nicola has not left the area where she was last seen and that very sadly for some reason she has fallen into the water.

"There is absolutely nothing to suggest from all the extensive enquiries we have made that anything untoward has happened to her or that there is any third-party involvement in her disappearance.

“This remains a missing person enquiry and we will continue to carry out searches and to do everything we can to find Nicola and provide her family and the community with the answers they desperately need."

Speaking on Friday, Nicola's partner Paul Ansell said: "I don't know how I'm coping.

Read more: 'You don't do that if you want to go missing': Nicola Bulley texted friend to set up playdate minutes before vanishing

"It's just about the girls, I'm there for them. I don't want to elaborate on that."

He said all his focus was on their two daughters and added "I'm scared if I put any focus into anything else it is going to take my focus off that".

But the visibly distraught Mr Ansell told Sky News he was taking comfort from the backing he got from friends and community and that he refused to give up hope: "It's amazing, the only thing we can take is that level of support.

"It gives us a great amount of comfort knowing that's going on. We don't have anything else.

"Were never going to lose the hope of course we're not. Right now it's as if she's vanished into thin air. Just insane."

Ms Bulley was last seen walking her dog Willow after dropping her daughters off at school in the village.

Just before 9am - about 15 minutes before she disappeared - she texted her friend to set up plans for a playdate. Her friend, who has remained anonymous, said they believed this showed she did not mean to disappear.

Read more: 'Has somebody got her?': Distraught parents of missing mum Nicola Bulley vow to never stop looking

Willow was found by a walker at about 10.15am, and her dog's harness was found on a bench. Her phone, which was still connected to the conference call, was also discovered.

Lancashire Police Superintendent Sally Riley speaks to the media at St Michael's on Wyre Village Hall to give an update on the search.
Lancashire Police Superintendent Sally Riley speaks to the media at St Michael's on Wyre Village Hall to give an update on the search. Picture: Alamy

Searches throughout the area have taken place, with a dive team and sniffer dogs searching the River Wyre.

Tributes have been left by locals as her family said they were struggling to understand what happened.

Ms Bulley's father Ernest, 73, said the girls - aged six and nine - said they ask "'Where mummy is, and when is mummy coming home?' It's so hard."

But he insisted: "We will never stop looking for her."

Because there was no sign of her falling in the river, he has begun to worry if "somebody got her".

"She had done her work and she was very upbeat about getting her mortgage sorted," he said of their last conversation.

Read more: Nicola Bulley: Timeline of the search for missing mother-of-two who disappeared while walking dog

"I said we better go now and Nicola came to the front door, and I gave her a kiss and told her I loved her and that was the last conversation I had with her."

Her sister, Louise Cunningham, previously said it felt like she was "stuck in a nightmare" as the family awaited answers.

"We're going round and round in circles trying to piece together what could have possibly happened," she said, saying the girls were struggling to process what has happened.

It's like she's just vanished into thin air. We just want her home, we need her home, her children need her home. It's absolutely heartbreaking."

Ms Bulley is described as white, 5ft 3in, with light brown, shoulder-length hair.

Police are keeping a "really open mind" in missing Nicola Bulley case.
Police are keeping a "really open mind" in missing Nicola Bulley case. Picture: Alamy

At the time of her disappearance she was wearing a long black gilet jacket with a hood, black jeans and olive green ankle wellington boots.

Superintendent Sally Riley said earlier: "We know that Nicola going missing has caused a great deal of concern for the wider local community, as well as obviously being an awful time for her family.

"This remains a missing person inquiry and at this time there is nothing to suggest any third-party involvement in Nicola’s disappearance.

"I appreciate that there are unanswered questions about what has happened to Nicola, but I would urge people not to speculate or spread false rumours. We will share updates when we can, but we must be factual.

"Nicola's family are being kept up to date with events and are being supported by officers.

"We are really grateful for the community’s help and co-operation so far, but I’d like to stress again parts of the riverbank are treacherous, especially after the recent rain, and we would ask that nobody puts themselves in danger and that the police and partner agencies’ efforts to find Nicola are not compromised.

"We now want to speak to the woman pictured on CCTV as we believe she was walking in the area at around the time Nicola was last seen.

"If you know her, or believe this may be you, please get in touch. You may not think you know anything but you might have seen something that could be significant."

Anyone who has seen Ms Bulley, or has information about where she might be, is asked to call 101, quoting log 565 of January 30, or call 999 if they have an immediate sighting.

It comes after police sealed off a car park nine miles from where Nicola Bulley went missing on Friday, a week after she vanished.

Officers in forensic suits were seen working at the Skippool Creek car park, between the River Wyre and Thornton Cleveleys Cricket Club in Lancashire.

The car park has since been reopened to the public, the Blackpool Gazette reported. A spokesperson for Lancashire Police later told LBC they were investigating reports of a suspicious vehicle in the car park, but that nothing was found.