Nicola Bulley: 10 key things we learned from day one of inquest

Nicola Bulley’s cause of death, medication, alcohol consumption and swimming ability revealed

William Mata
Tuesday 27 June 2023 10:30 BST
Nicola Bulley died from drowning, inquest told

Mother-of-two Nicola Bulley died from drowning and was alive when she entered the water, the first day of her inquest heard yesterday.

Preston Coroners’ Court also heard that the 45-year-old was not under the influence of alcohol and there is “no evidence” she was assaulted or harmed.

The second day of the inquest is being held today with her partner and sister set to give evidence. You can follow the latest updates here.

Ms Bulley was last seen taking her usual dog walk along the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, on January 27 having dropped off her two children at school. A huge search effort and media storm followed in the weeks after her disappearance.

Police had been criticised during the investigation for sharing details of Ms Bulley’s problems with alcohol and with perimenopause.

The force has previously said Ms Bulley may have gone into the water due to an “issue” with her springer spaniel dog, Willow, and encouraged the public not to speculate.

Despite this, the community was forced to contend with DIY investigations from members of the public beyond what the police were attempting.

Dr James Adeley, senior coroner for Lancashire, said the inquest would deal with only “proportionate evidence from reliable sources and not to explore all the theories by those who contributed to social media”.

The coroner added: “At the centre of this inquest are two children who have lost their mother, a partner, and parents who have lost a daughter.”

Here are ten things we have learned from the first day of the inquest:

Nicola Bulley died after entering the River Wyre in January

1. The cause of death

Home Office pathologist Alison Armour said: “I conclude the cause of death as drowning. The lungs themselves showed classical features we see in drownings. In my opinion Nicola Bulley was alive when she entered the water.”

It was also heard that her body floated downstream in the 4C water and that there is a “large vertical slope” from the bench she was on into the water. He estimated she would have floated at a “metre a second” downstream and she was found at 1.5 kilometres downstream of St Michael’s on Wyre.

2. Ms Bulley’s dog Willow was seen in a ‘giddy’ state by the side of the river

Penny Fletcher, who runs a nearby campsite, told the inquest: “I saw a springer spaniel loose, it was near the bench and going right towards the river where it drops down very steeply. I wouldn’t say it was acting chaotic at all, it was a bit giddy, yes.”

Ms Fletcher said found the phone, as well as a dog harness, and tied Willow to the bench. She later found out it was Ms Bulley’s dog and heard that she had gone missing.

3. Ms Bulley may have sunk under the surface of the river after she fell in

An underwater search expert said Ms Bulley’s body may have sunk under the surface of the river after she fell in.

Dr Lorna Dennison Wilkins told the inquest: “Nikki might have had some buoyancy in her clothing which would have dispelled. Once that happened, she would have lost that buoyancy and her body would have sunk under the surface, was my assessment.”

4. She would only have been able to hold her breath for ‘one or two seconds at best’

Cold water expert Dr Patrick Morgan added that Ms Bulley may have only been able to hold her breath for “one or two seconds at best” in the river.

“(After falling in) the heart rate goes excessively high, the blood pressure surges excessively high,” he said. “The heart pumps no blood, and the brain switches off. The potential conscious time here quoted are optimistic... it is potentially shorter.

“On the occasion that the individual has taken that initial gasp on the surface of the water and then gone below, the duration would be 10 seconds that you could hold your breath, and very likely one or two seconds at best.”

Nicola Bulley died aged 45

5. She may have lost consciousness in 20 or 30 seconds

Professor Michael Tipton said there would have been a “fairly rapid incapacitation” after Nicola Bulley fell into the River Wyre.

He said: “In my opinion, given the nature of the likely entry into the water, I would suspect Nikki had a gasp response under the water, initiating the drowning process.

“On the balance of probability there was a fairly rapid incapacitation due to the cold shock.”

It was also heard it could have been an estimated “20 to 30 seconds” before she lost consciousness.

He added: “We estimate the temperature would have been around 3 to 5C (in the River Wyre), so there would be a particularly powerful cold-shock response.

“For somebody of Nicola’s size, it would have taken one or two breaths in of water to be a lethal dose.”

6. Residents reported nothing out of the ordinary in Ms Bulley’s appearance

Residents who saw Ms Bulley on the morning of her disappearance also spoke at the hearing.

Kay Kiernan, a receptionist, told the inquest she spoke to Ms Bulley about her dog Willow while dropping off her children at school at just after 8.30am.

She said: “She was not happy, but who is on a Friday-morning school run? She wasn’t sad, just how I normally knew her.”

Ms Kiernan went on: “There was nothing of concern.”

7. Ms Bulley was set to attend a social event that weekend

Lucie Musella, a fellow mother with children at the same school as Ms Bulley’s daughters, said that she received a text message at 8.59am on January 27 from Ms Bulley on Facebook Messenger.

The two exchanged details about organising a playdate for their children, with Ms Bulley sending a time confirmation with a smiley face emoji just minutes before she was last sighted alive.

The inquest heard that a group of school mothers had also organised a social event for Saturday, January 28, with Ms Bulley “planning on coming for one or two”.

8. Nicola Bulley had not been drinking

Nicola Bulley had not been drinking before her death, a Home Office pathologist said.

Dr Alison Armour, who was giving evidence, said she had no alcohol in her body at the time of her death.

9. Nicola Bulley was able to swim but the current was too strong

The coroner has said Ms Bulley was a “holiday swimmer”. It has previously been established the water flow on January 27 was a metre per second.

Therefore, Ms Dennison Wilkins said it would have been “highly likely to be almost impossible to swim against the current”. The coroner said Ms Bulley would also be making this decision while trying to hold her breathe and not drown.

Flowers with a message adorn a footbridge over the River Wyre

10. Nicola Bulley was on medication

The inquest heard that levels of beta blocker propranolol and painkiller paracetamol were found in her system. No further details have been given.

Ms Bulley’s GP is set to speak on Tuesday at the inquest.

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