Nicola Bulley: 5 questions police must answer about missing mother’s disappearance

Police are appparently no closer to finding mother-of-two nearly three weeks after she vanished while walking her dog

Matt Mathers
Friday 17 February 2023 06:51 GMT
Online myths and conjecture 'distracting' from Nicola Bulley investigation, say police

Police investigating the Nicola Bulley case appear no closer to finding her nearly three weeks after the mother-of-two disappeared while walking her dog near the river in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire.

On Wednesday Lancashire Constabulary announced that Ms Bulley, 45, had been facing “significant issues with alcohol” brought on by “ongoing struggles with the menopause”, prompting claims in some quarters of “victim blaming”.

Tory MP Alicia Kearns is among those denouncing the force’s decision to share Ms Bulley’s struggles when it is not clear how doing so will help the ongoing search.

In a news conference, the force also set out a detailed rundown of the work it had done so far in trying to find Ms Bulley and criticised armchair detectives commenting on the case, saying they were a “significant” distraction.

Rebecca Smith, detective superintendent, said officers were still keeping an open mind as to what might have happened to Ms Bulley and would continue to search the river where she was last seen while walking her spaniel, Willow.

There are, however, a number of questions that the force has still not answered.

Home visit

In a statement, the force said it had been called out to the family’s home in early January due to a “concern for welfare” report. But it did not elaborate on what happened during the visit.

On Friday it will have been exactly three weeks since Ms Bulley apparently vanished after dropping off her children at school. But it took until yesterday for the force to go public with the details about the January call out Ms Bulley’s personal struggles, which it initially described as “specific vulnerabilities”.

Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith of Lancashire Police updates the media on the search for Nicola Bulley (Peter Powell/PA Images)
Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith of Lancashire Police updates the media on the search for Nicola Bulley (Peter Powell/PA Images) (PA Wire)

The bench

Lancashire Constabulary is also facing questions as to why it did not properly cordon off the area around the bench where Ms Bulley’s phone and dog were found after she disappeared.

A forensic and search expert who assisted the police search but has also been highly critical of the force’s handling of the case claims he wasn’t told the missing mother had “significant issues” - and says he would have taken a different approach if he had.

Peter Faulding claims police did not tell his team Ms Bulley was considered ‘high risk’ as soon as the missing persons case was launched after she disappeared on 27 January.

Mr Faulding said having this knowledge would have changed his team’s “whole search strategy”.


Det Supt Smith said officers have viewed a “substantial amount of CCTV, which has helped them “pin down” some of Ms Bulley’s movements.

However, they cannot “complete” every step she made as the area has footage that covers just parts of the route she took.

The detective said: “The area at the top of the field, Rowanwater, has CCTV that covers the gate that enters the field and the front of the site.

“That is working, the site managers have been cooperating with us and supporting this investigation at every stage.

“We can say that Nicola has not entered that area or left.”

Digital devices

Officers, along with digital experts, have carried out an “exhaustive amount of work” on Ms Bulley’s phone.

Det Supt Smith said this has enabled the force to monitor her movements in the field, corroborated with the witness accounts.

She said Ms Bulley’s Fitbit device did not provide further information because it had not been “synced for a number of days”.

She was not wearing a headset at the time of her disappearance, the officer confirmed.

On Wednesday, police were also analysing her social media accounts, which the family is aware of.

Det Supt Smith made it clear that Ms Bulley’s accounts may appear to be online as this takes place but that “nobody needs to be concerned or to contact the incident room”.


Officers will continue searching the river this week, but is an “inherently challenging medium” to investigate, Mr Lawson said.

He went on: “The reality is there will be a point in which I need to review the extent of proportionality of continuing to deploy significant search resources around the River Wyre.”

Here are the “persistent myths”, that have been answered referred to during the press conference.

Derelict house

There has been speculation about a derelict house on the other side of the River Wyre.

However, Ms Smith said it has been searched three times, with the permission of the owner, and Ms Bulley was not there.

Red van

Reports from witnesses described seeing a red van they considered to be suspicious in the area around the time Ms Bulley went missing.

Police say they are continuing to make enquiries to try to track down the van, but it is not believed to be suspicious.

Ms Smith added: “We are continuing to investigate that so that we can identify whoever was in the area at that time to make sure they can’t give us more information.”


There have also been reports of fisherman seen in the area on the morning of Ms Bulley’s disappearance, who were described as suspicious.

Ms Smith said: “I myself don’t find it suspicious that fisherman would be in the area of a river that morning or carrying fishing rods.”

However, officers have checked CCTV, contacted local angling clubs and appealed for information, following a witness report about a fisherman in the area supposedly trying to cover his face.


Police say a glove found in the area does not belong to Ms Bulley.

Ms Smith said: “You’ll no doubt be aware that TikTokers have been playing their own private detectives and have been in the area.

“A glove has been recovered that is not believed to be relevant to the investigation, it is not Nicola’s but we have got that in our possession.”

Caravan site

Rumours have circulated about CCTV at a nearby caravan site not working.

Lancashire Police says this is not the case and officers have been helped “beyond all belief” by owners of the site.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in