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Fury as tourists 'travel for miles to take selfies' on bench where missing Nicola Bulley's phone was found
8 February 2023, 23:42 | Updated: 9 February 2023, 10:39
Tourists travelling for miles to take selfies on the bench where Nicola Bulley was last seen have sparked fury among friends and family.
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Nicola Bulley vanished while walking her dog alongside the river in St Michael's on Wyre, Lancashire. She was dialled in to a work conference call at the time.
A friend of Ms Bulley's said there had since been an influx of tourists visiting the bench.
Heather Gibbons said "The truth is if we look at it factually, no-one knows until we have some evidence.
"I think it's incredibly hard, but up to a certain level, we understand it's human nature. It's natural for everyone to have speculation, because the truth is, nothing is making sense."
Despite the turnout for the search being "amazing", she added: "We have noticed it does feel like some people have come to maybe use it as more like a tourist spot, to do their own personal social media things which in some ways we see and understand but it is hard, there's a lot of people around as it is."
The area's parish council chairman also criticised the disrespectful behaviour, reminding visitors that the search was not a "spectator sport".
"It would be helpful if people could let the authorities do their jobs," Giles Phillips said.
"We don't want anyone to hinder the investigation. This is not a spectator sport.
"Most of the area is private land. The public access is very minimal and can't absorb the numbers of people who are coming every day.
"They aren't searching for somebody. They are watching someone else search for somebody.
"We would rather people stayed home or took a day trip to the Lake District."
Mr Phillips said that in recent days the village has seen a rise in visitors to the riverside to observe the search operation.
Visitors have reportedly travelled from as far as Lancaster and Manchester.
On Wednesday an expert diver leading the river search Ms Bulley dramatically called it off, declaring she is not in the water, and says he "did not know" whether she's still alive.
Peter Faulding, leader of underwater search experts Specialist Group International (SGI), branded the case 'baffling' and said he 'did not know' whether she was still alive.
The search specialist said he had been "determined" to find Ms Bulley but that he and her partner Paul Ansell, 44, were "relieved" that he hadn't.
They met at the site of the search on Wednesday morning in St. Michael's on Wyre, Lancashire, where Mr Faulding confirmed that Ms Bulley 'is not here'.
The SGI team, which was set to leave the search site on Wedneday, will not be helping police to search the River Wyre's "lower estuary".
Lancashire Police told MailOnline their search remains "ongoing" with no deadline in place for it to conclude.
It came after police last night admitted that Nicola could have left the area with a third party when she vanished during a walk with her springer spaniel Willow at around 9.20am on January 27.
Meanwhile, as the search continues, a friend of the missing mother has called on officers to search an abandoned house and outbuilding close to the river where she's believed to have disappeared.
In an updated Facebook post, Tilly Ann wrote: 'The abandoned house and outbuildings etc have not yet been searched as it is not currently a crime investigation!!!!!! (This should have been done straight away!).'
The force still maintain that Ms Bulley most likely fell into the river, but superintendent Sally Riley said it remained a "possibility" that she left the area by one path not covered by CCTV cameras.
However, she added that "every single" suspicion or criminal suggestion had so far been discounted.
Ms Bulley, 45, was last seen in St Michael's on Wyre, Lancashire, at around 9.10am on the morning of January 27.
Her phone and dog were found at around 9.30am at the bench near the river by another dog-walker, with police working on the theory she fell into the Wyre - despite friends of the family suggesting that is not the case.
Mr Faulding told LBC on Wednesday morning that Ms Bulley's disappearance was "baffling" and that he would have expected her body to have been found on the afternoon she was reported missing.
Police, alongside divers from Mr Faulding's company, headed out to the river again this morning, where super high-tech sonar camera scoured the riverbed in search of a potential body.
It is believed the camera is able to see through to the bottom of the river and any potential obstacle that would be in its way.
There has been no trace of the mother-of-two as search efforts ramp up as the search continues into its second week.
The police's "main working hypothesis" is that the mother-of-two fell into the River Wyre near to the village of St Michael's on Wyre, but officers are following some 500 lines of enquiry.
But her family and friends have claimed there is "no evidence" to support this and Mr Faulding previously suggested police wonder if it could have been used as a "decoy".
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.
Lancashire Police also said that Nicola Bulley did not leave the field where she was walking Willow via Rowanwater, either through the site itself or via the piece of land at the side.
Officers are now focusing on a river path that leads from the fields back to Garstang Road and are appealing for drivers and cyclists to come forward.
Nicola's partner, Paul Ansell, said earlier in the week: "It's been ten days now since Nicola went missing and I have two little girls who miss their mummy desperately and who need her back.
"This has been such a tough time for the girls especially but also for me and all of Nicola’s family and friends, as well as the wider community and I want to thank them for their love and support.
"We are also really grateful to Peter and his team from SGI for coming up and helping support the work of Lancashire Police as they continue their investigation.
"If anyone has any information which could help find Nicola, I urge them to get in touch with the police and help us provide the answers we all so badly need."
Police have hit out at amateur sleuths and online speculation over the case.
Superintendent Sally Riley said: "We will not tolerate online abuse of anyone, including innocent witnesses, members of the family and friends, of local businesses, or of criminal damage or burglary. We will be taking a strong line on that, as you would expect."
She added: "There are some properties along the riverside which are empty or derelict.
"Whilst it may be well intentioned that people think that that could be a line of inquiry, I would ask them to desist from doing that.
"In some cases it may be criminal if they are breaking in and causing damage or committing a burglary."
She went on: "Because there is no criminal element yet identified, and we don't expect there to be in this inquiry, then we're not starting to go into houses because that's not where the inquiry is leading us."