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

16 February 2023, 15:52 | Updated: 17 February 2023, 14:41

Police have come under fire for their release of information about Nicola Bulley
Police have come under fire for their release of information about Nicola Bulley. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Ex-police officers and politicians have condemned Lancashire Police for revealing missing Nicola Bulley has recently struggled with alcohol and menopause.

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A former Detective Chief Inspector said the release of information was "victim blaming" designed to protect the force, accusing it of "destroying her reputation", while Labour's shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper described it as "surprising".

And the police watchdog said it was speaking to the force to see if a referral was necessary.

The force held a defensive press conference on Thursday, when it hit out at disinformation and tried to debunk conspiracy theories that have emerged in the nearly three weeks since Ms Bulley vanished.

Having said she was considered a "high risk" person early in the investigation, the force later added: "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."

Read more: 'Focus on finding Nikki': Nicola Bulley's family pleas to end speculation as watchdog contacts Lancashire Police

The family later clarified on Thursday that she had been taking hormone replacement therapy to deal with perimenopause but stopped because she was getting intense headaches. She had suffered from brain fog.

But Lancashire Police has infuriated critics who said that kind of information did not need to be made public, as they said the force was trying to cover its own back as it faces criticism over its handling of the case.

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Former Detective Chief Inspector Martyn Underhill, who worked in the Metropolitan Police and Surrey Police, said he had never seen so much detail in a missing persons case, and suggested the "subtext" was that this is to do with mental health as opposed to a domestic incident.

"You can understand why some people are saying it's victim blaming to protect their own reputation," he told Sky News.

"I can't see how it progresses the case any further forward now we're three weeks in, to be frank."

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

He went on: "I can understand in some ways why they didn't release it then as it would completely destroy her reputation.

"It's a big move to take but if you aren't going to take it at the start of the investigation, why do it now?"

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "I was very surprised and I don't understand the reasons for it.

Lancashire Police revealed Ms Bulley's problems after a press conference
Lancashire Police revealed Ms Bulley's problems after a press conference. Picture: Alamy

"I wouldn't want to comment further without knowing the decisions Lancashire Police have taken, and I know they are dealing with a complex case and they've had lots of social media speculation around it.

"But it was a very unusual thing to do, so it does obviously raise some significant concerns.

"I think, look, the most important thing to do is to support Nicola's family and to support the continuing investigation into what has happened."

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

Ms Bulley, a 45-year-old mother of two, 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.

Alicia Kearns, the Tory MP who is chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said: "I am deeply uncomfortable with the police releasing Nicola Bulley's so-called 'vulnerabilities' on menopause and alcohol.

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

"I struggle to ascertain how this will assist police in their search & investigations. I do see how it would assist those wishing to victim-blame or diminish."

Peter Faulding, a search specialist who scanned the river near when Ms Bulley may have gone in, said he wished the information had been searched with him sooner, as it would have changed his investigation.

"We were briefed by the police search advisers, so we were working under them. We were told, categorically, that she had more than likely just slipped into the river where we were searching.

"It was only two feet deep of water, onto rocks, and I said on day one, this is a mystery because we work on so many of these and she's not in that part of the river at all.

"It's changed the search strategy, she just could've wandered off, been in a dazed state of mind.

"She could've swam over the weir, because when people try and drown themselves they float for a while, which means she could have drifted down and over the weir and then disappeared out to sea."

The Independent Office for Police Conduct announced it had made contact with the force to "determine if a referral to the IOPC may be required" over the release of the information.

He hopes to return and said a land search would also be necessary. The search for Ms Bulley will enter its fourth week on Friday.