Search expert hunting for Nicola Bulley seeks out ditches where body could be hidden

Peter Faulding is compiling list of ditches, hedgerows and woodlands he plans to search next week

Andy Gregory
Tuesday 14 February 2023 11:20 GMT
Nicola Bulley ‘could have been kidnapped’, says forensic search expert

A search expert hunting for Nicola Bulley has revealed that he is scouring maps of the local area for places where it would be possible to hide a body.

Peter Faulding, whose team Specialist Group International was drafted in to help police search the River Wyre for the 45-year-old, is “convinced” that she is not in the river, after his three-day search using sonar and divers yielded no sign of the mother-of-two.

While Lancashire Police believe Ms Bulley most likely fell in the river while walking her dog on 27 January, her partner Paul Ansell has pleaded for the surrounding land “to be scrutinised”, while her family have urged investigators to keep an “open mind” over the nature of her disappearance.

Bulley wearing a Fitbit, which can track a user’s heartbeat
Bulley wearing a Fitbit, which can track a user’s heartbeat (Supplied)

As police were seen searching on horseback near the mouth of the river on Monday, Mr Faulding said that he had compiled a list of ditches, woodlands and hedgerows “where it would be possible to secrete a body without anyone noticing”.

“I’m looking at Ordnance Survey maps of the surrounding areas to search for possible deposition sites,” the rescue veteran told The Times. “These could be ditches, hedgerows, wooded areas where it is possible to park a vehicle and deposit a body without being seen.

“People in the wider vicinity for several miles around St Michael’s should be looking for any suspicious activity.”

Mr Faulding, who is planning to search the land around St Michael’s next week if the mortgage adviser has still not been found, said that “normally people aren’t found too far away, often within a couple of miles”.

Ms Bulley has not been seen since her phone was discovered on a bench by the riverbank – still connected to a Microsoft Teams call – at St Michael’s on Wyre, where she routinely walked her springer spaniel after dropping her two daughters, aged six and nine, at school nearby.

(Datawrapper/The Independent)

Her dog, Willow, was found running loose near the bench, where its lead sat next to Ms Bulley’s phone.

Mr Faulding said on Monday night that he was “convinced” she was not in the river, telling TalkTV: “The river was less than two feet deep on the day. If Nicola had gone down that bank, she would have landed on rocks.

“She would have had to have been pushed from behind extremely hard to launch herself into the deep water and the police divers searched it thoroughly that day, and that’s what convinces me that Nicola is not in the river, I believe that the phone and the harness is a decoy.”

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

It came as a friend revealed that Mr Ansell had contacted Mercedes to try and track Ms Bulley’s car keys, which a neighbour said she would “definitely” have been carrying at the time she disappeared.

According to Mr Ansell, her partner of 12 years, the keys have a “couple of Mercedes keyrings on, one black and one blue, a round wooden key ring with paw prints on it, and a couple of normal keys”.

Mr Ansell said last week that he wanted police to conduct a full search of the surrounding land, including “every house, every garage, every outbuilding”.

Ex-Surrey Police officer Mark Williams-Thomas – who exposed Jimmy Saville’s history of abuse and has investigated the disappearance of Madeleine McCann – has also joined the search this week, vowing to “explore all the options, bring you a factual evidence analysis and dismiss some of the inaccuracies”.

Sharing an aerial image of the area to Twitter on Tuesday morning, he said there had been “sadly no developments yesterday in the search”, adding: “Two key aspects to consider is access and opportunities and you can see from this aerial shot a lot exist to the relevant location.”

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