Nicola Bulley: Diver explains why his team failed to find body

Specialist Group International founder and CEO Peter Faulding says sometimes his team are not able to find people

Thomas Kingsley
Monday 20 February 2023 15:16 GMT
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Nicola Bulley: Diver Peter Faulding says he is the ‘fall guy’ after body found in river

A diving expert involved in the search for missing mother Nicola Bulley has defended his team’s involvement in the investigation.

A body was found in the River Wyre by two dog walkers not far from where the 45-year-old went missing three weeks ago.

Peter Faulding, head of Specialist Group International, led a team of experts and divers to assist Lancashire Police in searching the river using specialist sonar equipment.

Nicola Bulley, 45, was last seen on the morning of Friday January 27 while walking her dog (Family/PA)
Nicola Bulley, 45, was last seen on the morning of Friday January 27 while walking her dog (Family/PA) (PA Media)

Mr Faulding, who joined the police midway through the search before concluding that Ms Bulley’s body was not in the river after three days, said the body was found in an area that was not part of his team’s search remit.

He said that he had become the “fall guy” for the operation after a body was recovered by the police on Sunday afternoon.

“Sadly, the discovery was not found in the river but in the reeds at the side of the river which was not part of our remit as the side scan sonar does not penetrate reeds above or below the water,” Mr Faulding said in a statement.

He added: “A riverbank and wade search would be the only way to search this area and we were not involved or tasked with that search. The difference between these two search areas has caused a lot of confusion and unfair criticism towards myself and my team at Specialist Group International (SGI).

At the start of SGI’s involvement in the search, Mr Faulding said if Ms Bulley was in the river, his team will find her “in minutes” and “our sonar will pick her up straight away.”

A map showing where Ms Bulley was found
A map showing where Ms Bulley was found (Google Maps/The Independent)

On these comments, Mr Faulding said: “My previous comments saying that if Nicola was in the river, I would find her, still stand. My team and I at SGI did all we could to assist this family with only our best intentions. I am sure I can say this of everyone who has been involved in this difficult search.

Mr Faulding was also critical of Lancashire Police after it revealed that Ms Bulley was considered high risk and had “significant issues” with alcohol related to the menopause.

The forensic expert claimed he wasn’t told the missing mother had significant issues - and says he would have taken a different approach if he had.

Faulding, left, with Bulley’s partner Paul Ansell on a visit to the riverside
Faulding, left, with Bulley’s partner Paul Ansell on a visit to the riverside (PA)

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

In the defence of his search he also said: “For three days, using high frequency side scan sonar, we thoroughly search the riverbed and can categorically confirm that Nicola was not laying on the riverbed on the days that we searched.

“We did search the stretch of river where Nicola was found for four hours on our first day and then upstream past the weir on the subsequent two days. The police underwater search teams and land search teams were searching for three full weeks and were also unable to find Nicola.

“A riverbank and wade search would be the only way to search this area and we were not involved or tasked with that search. The difference between these two search areas has caused a lot of confusion and unfair criticism towards myself and my team at Specialist Group International (SGI).”

Peter Faulding and his team search the river (PA)
Peter Faulding and his team search the river (PA) (PA Wire)

Mr Faulding, who updated the media frequently during his involvement in the search, was accused of supporting the operation for his own fame.

He defended these accusations saying he did not volunteer his services, equipment or time for “any limelight or publicity.”

“I simply wanted to lend extra resources to help a family in despair and this was supported by Lancashire Police. However, there has been unprecedented media and public interest in this case and at every turn, I was asked for an update on my own search, which I provided with only best intentions,” Mr Faulding said.

Mr Faulding said that despite SGI’s status as a recognised underwater search team for Essex, Surrey, Kent and Hampshire, “sometimes we are unable to locate the missing person.”

Lancashire Constabulary said a formal identification is yet to be carried out but the 45-year-old mortgage adviser’s family have been informed.

Her partner Paul Ansell told Sky News of his “agony”, adding: “We’re all together, we have to be strong.”

A police spokesman said officers were called to reports of a body in the river close to Rawcliffe Road at around 11.35am on Sunday.

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