Nicola Bulley was 'high-risk' as police reveal 'amateur detectives' have 'significantly distracted' the search

15 February 2023, 12:00 | Updated: 15 February 2023, 13:02

The mum has been missing since January 27th
The mum has been missing since January 27th. Picture: Police
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Detectives have been "inundated with false information, accusations and rumours which is distracting" them from their work to find Nicola Bulley, who is a "high-risk" missing person with "specific vulnerabilities", police said.

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Speaking at a press conference at Lancashire Police headquarters on Wednesday officers said Nicola Bulley was listed as a "high-risk missing person" due to a "number of specific vulnerabilities."

Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith of Lancashire Police said the move was "normal for a missing person with the information we were in possession of".

It is still the "main working hypothesis" that Nicola Bulley fell into the River Wyre before going missing, she said, adding that detectives are keeping an open mind on the mother-of-two's disappearance.

Hitting out at "TikTok amateur detectives" the officer leading the investigation said efforts of social media commentators have "significantly distracted the investigation."

Nicola Bulley's partner Paul Ansell
Nicola Bulley's partner Paul Ansell. Picture: Alamy

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Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith refused to give more details of the mother-of-two's "individual vulnerabilities".

Referring to Ms Bulley's partner Paul Ansell, she told a press conference: "It's normal in any missing person investigation that you obviously gather as much information at an early stage about the person in question, which is no different and we did that with Paul.

"I'm not going to go into the details of those individual vulnerabilities. I've asked you to respect the family, who are going through unimaginable pain and distress at this moment.

"But those vulnerabilities based our decision-making in terms of grading Nicola as high risk and have continued to form part of my investigation throughout."

Asked if she hoped to find her alive, Det Supt Smith said: "I hope with all my heart that we find Nicola Bulley alive more than anything."

Assistant Chief Constable Peter Lawson (left) and Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith of Lancashire Police update the media in St Michael's on Wyre, Lancashire, as police continue their search for Nicola Bulley, 45
Assistant Chief Constable Peter Lawson (left) and Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith of Lancashire Police update the media in St Michael's on Wyre, Lancashire, as police continue their search for Nicola Bulley, 45. Picture: Alamy

Assistant Chief Constable Peter Lawson said: "I would emphasise that it remains the case there is no evidence to indicate a criminal aspect or third party involvement in Nicola's disappearance.

"However, the officers involved in the investigation are the same experienced specialists and many senior officers who are concerned with the investigation of the most serious and complex crimes."

ACC Lawson said officers have carried out an "unprecedented" amount of work since Bulley went missing.

Adding their force's "sole focus" has been to "find Nicola, to bring her home to her family, and to give them the answers they so desperately need".

ACC Lawson told reporters his officers have visited more than 300 premises, spoken to almost 300 people, and received around 1,500 pieces of information.

Police are still extensively searching the River Wyre and the surrounding area downstream and out to the sea.

He revealed a large search of the land has been carried out around some properties around the area.

Detectives are looking through hundreds of hours of CCTV and dashcam footage, he added.

Still no evidence of criminal activity in disappearance of Nicola Bulley, Lancashire police say.

People line the streets with placards asking for information on missing Nicola Bulley in the village of St Michael's on Wyre
People line the streets with placards asking for information on missing Nicola Bulley in the village of St Michael's on Wyre. Picture: Getty

Here is a timeline of events surrounding the disappearance:

- January 27

At 8.26am Ms Bulley left her home with her two daughters, aged six and nine, dropping them off at school and engaging in a brief conversation with another parent around 15 minutes later.

She then took Willow for a walk along the path by the River Wyre at 8.43am, heading towards a gate in the lower field and was later seen by dog walker who knew her.

At 8.53am, Ms Bulley sent an email to her boss, followed by a message to her friends six minutes later, before logging on to a Microsoft Teams call at 9.01am.

She was seen by a second witness at 9.10am, the last known sighting.

Her phone was back in the area of the bench at 9.20am before the Teams call ended 10 minutes later, with her mobile remaining logged on after the call.

At 9.33am, another dog walker found her phone on a bench beside the river, with Willow darting between the two.

At 10.50am, Ms Bulley's family and the school attended by her children were told about her disappearance.

- January 28

Lancashire Constabulary deployed drones, helicopters and police search dogs as part of the major missing person operation.

They were assisted by Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, as well as Bowland Pennine mountain rescue team and the North West underwater search team.

- January 29

Local residents held a meeting at the village hall to organise a search, with police urging volunteers to remain cautious.

- January 30

Superintendent Sally Riley from Lancashire Constabulary said police were "keeping a really open mind about what could have happened", and that they were not treating Ms Bulley's disappearance as suspicious.

- January 31

Lancashire Constabulary spoke with a potential witness, a man who had been walking a small white fluffy dog near the River Wyre at the time of Ms Bulley's disappearance.

Her family released a statement saying they had been "overwhelmed by the support" in their community, and that her daughters were "desperate to have their mummy back home safe".

- February 1

Ms Bulley's parents, Ernest and Dot Bulley, spoke to The Mirror about the "horror" they faced over the possibility of never seeing her again.

- February 2

Lancashire Constabulary spoke with a second witness who they had identified with the help of the public using CCTV but they told police they did not have any further information to aid their inquiry.

Officers from the North West Police Underwater and Marine support unit searched the area close to where Ms Bulley's mobile phone was found, while police divers scoured the River Wyre.

Meanwhile, Ms Bulley's family appealed to the public for help tracing her.

- February 3

Lancashire Police said it was working on the hypothesis that Ms Bulley may have fallen into the River Wyre.

- February 4

The force announced it wanted to trace a "key witness" who was seen pushing a pram in the area near where Ms Bulley went missing on the morning of her disappearance.

- February 5

The woman described as a "key witness" by police came forward.

The force insisted she was "very much being treated as a witness" as it warned against "totally unacceptable" speculation and abuse on social media.

Reports emerged that a private underwater rescue team was set to assist police in the search for Ms Bulley.

- February 6

Underwater search experts arrived to help.

Ms Bulley's friends said they hoped the help of a specialist underwater rescue team would give the family answers.

Her partner, Paul Ansell, said in a statement: "It's been 10 days now since Nicola went missing and I have two little girls who miss their mummy desperately and who need her back."

- February 7

Police rejected suggestions she could have been a victim of crime.

Lancashire Police said their extensive inquiries have "so far not found anything of note".

A team of 40 detectives were working on approximately 500 different lines of inquiry, it was said.

The force urged the public to avoid "distressing" speculation about what may have happened to Ms Bulley.

Elsewhere, underwater search expert Peter Faulding, who was helping to find her, said he did not think the missing mother was in the water.

- February 8

Mr Ansell spent 10 minutes on the riverbank near the bench where Ms Bulley's phone was found.

He spoke of the "perpetual hell" of not knowing what had happened.

Mr Faulding said after three unsuccessful days of looking in the water, he was "baffled".

Search teams were focusing on the 10 miles or so of river downstream of the bench, where the River Wyre empties into the sea at Morecambe Bay.

- February 9

Lancashire Police was granted a dispersal order to break up groups of people reportedly filming in the village.

- February 10

Mr Ansell said the family was going through "unprecedented hell", but that he would never give up hope of finding her.

Emma White, a friend of Ms Bulley, said the search for the missing woman in St Michael's on Wyre had been "like torture".

Meanwhile, police urged people to refrain from indulging in commentary and conspiracy theories online.

- February 12

Friends and family left yellow ribbons with handwritten messages on a bridge close to where she disappeared.

Ribbons with messages including "We need you home Nicola", "praying for your safe return" and "I love you" were tied to a footbridge over the River Wyre.

A large poster with a photograph of Ms Bulley was also attached to the railings.

- February 13

Wyre Council removed councillors' contact details from its website due to "inappropriate emails and phone calls" about Ms Bulley's disappearance.

It also temporarily removed contact details for "parish and town council members".

- February 14

Two people were arrested on suspicion of sending malicious communications.

- February 15

Police hold a press conference about the ongoing search.

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