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Caravan park staff ‘told to lock doors’ as Nicola Bulley vigilantes ‘film through windows’ in village

Staff at site near where dog walker vanished condemn ‘awful’ abuse online

Andy Gregory
Tuesday 14 February 2023 15:53 GMT
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Handwritten messages left for missing Nicola Bulley close to where she disappeared

Staff at the caravan park close to where Nicola Bulley disappeared have been warned by police to lock their doors, as vigilante detectives are alleged to have been filming through the windows of villagers’ homes.

The mother-of-two disappeared on 27 January while walking her dog along the River Wyre, and the search for her has been the subject of frenzied speculation online – which has at times boiled over into the real-life harassment of local residents and officials.

Lancashire Police believe the 45-year-old most likely fell into the river close to a bench where her phone was discovered still connected to a Microsoft Teams call, near the village of St Michael’s on Wyre.

Police officers walk towards a missing person appeal poster for Nicola Bulley on a bridge over the River Wyre (Peter Byrne/PA Wire)

But officers have been forced to take steps to protect the wellbeing of local residents and properties, as members of the public descended on the village, with some alleged to have trespassed in nearby derelict buildings after her disappearance.

While it was reported that police were searching the caravan site on Monday, a staff member told The Independent that it was merely a routine check for their wellbeing – with officers having already conducted earlier searches of the property, which is currently closed for the winter.

“They pop in regularly to say ‘is everything alright’, because we’re having such a bad time in this village with it,” the staff member, who asked to remain anonymous, said. “Everyone wants to find poor Nicola. It’s tragic, it’s awful.”

They said the speculation and abuse on social media is "absolutely wicked" and not helping with the search for the missing mother-of-two.

“Everything on social media. It’s almost laughable, well it’s not laughable, it’s horrible, it’s awful,” they added.

“A friend of mine had someone yesterday filming through the window.

“The police had warned me about that, they said ‘for heaven’s sake, just keep your doors locked, you must’.”

Police activity near the bench by the River Wyre by the bench where Bulley’s phone was found (PA)

The allegations echo remarks by Wyre Council leader Michael Vincent, who told the BBC that some residents had brought in private security after being left frightened by people peering into their windows at night.

Mr Vincent was speaking after police confirmed they were investigating an “offensive” voicemail left on one local councillor’s phone, amid a flurry of calls to officials in the middle of the night. Staff at the caravan park said they had also received several calls from withheld numbers.

Lancashire Police said while keeping doors locked is good crime prevention advice, it isn’t something the constabulary has said specifically to the residents of St Michael’s.

Another local resident, who did not wish to be named, hit out at people entering the village churchyard and “calling out to spirits”.

“Just nutters, quite frankly, thinking they’re in contact with the dead and saying they’ve been in touch and they all know where she is, and have all got different places where she is,” they told The Independent. People are speculating on the case as far away as America, they added.

Everything we know about Nicola Bulley's disappearance so far

While it has been claimed that a broken CCTV camera at the back of the caravan park “would have seen everything”, the staff member said that their cameras had no view of the river and that the broken camera which “overlooks the field where Nikki walked” belonged to a nearby property.

They said a camera which “can see any traffic coming down the lane” had been handed to police, who “spent hours” looking at the footage.

There was nothing on the CCTV footage to suggest that Ms Bulley exited the area via the lane, although there are parts of the lane not covered by the camera, they said.

(Datawrapper/The Independent)

It came as Simon Harding, a former detective chief inspector, suggested that Lancashire Police should change the way it speaks to the public, to “reassure other people and stop people going to that scene and taking things into their own hands”.

“Come out and say, ‘we've done this, we have done this CCTV, we've done this researching’ to stop people. It’s the messaging, which is the problem for me,” he told Sky News.

Lancashire Police told the broadcaster: “Since Nicola went missing over two weeks ago, we have done an unprecedented amount to try and find her.

“This has involved a dedicated team of more than 40 detectives looking through hundreds of hours of CCTV and dashcam footage, speaking to numerous witnesses, carrying out digital enquiries and examining literally hundreds of pieces of information submitted by the public.

“Specialist resources from the police and other agencies including underwater search teams, drones, horses, dogs, and the police helicopter continue to comb the River Wyre and surrounding area down and out into the sea.”

“Based on all of the vast amount of work we have done up to now we continue to believe the most likely scenario is that Nicola has fallen into the river for some reason, but we have a dedicated team who are continuing to investigate all possibilities thoroughly,” they added.

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