Rishi Sunak and his home secretary Suella Braverman have expressed “concern” since Lancashire Police publicly revealed three weeks into the “unprecedented” search that the 45-year-old had been struggling with alcohol and menopause when she went missing in St Michael’s on Wyre.
The force drew criticism for what some alleged was a “sexist” error to disclose the nature of “specific vulnerabilities”, which they revealed at a press conference on Wednesday had prompted them to immediately class Ms Bulley a high-risk missing person on 27 January.
But there is said to be “huge anger” among police nationally after criticism by some social media users extended to the senior investigating officer’s choice of clothing and hairstyle.
The most prominent of such remarks came from Daily Mail columnist Amanda Platell, who wrote on Twitter: “Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith at press conference yesterday – skin tight navy dress, stilettos, poker straightened hair – whatever happened to a cop uniform! Or is she auditioning for Love Island for midlifers? Show some respect for a missing mother!”
Ms Platell then doubled down in the newspaper on Friday, writing: “By last night, almost 4.5 million people had looked at [my tweet]. I hope the next time we see DS Smith, she is dressed appropriately.”
In response to the tweet, the chief constable of Cumbria Constabulary, Michelle Skeer, said: “I wouldn’t normally comment on such poor journalism but this is an absolutely disgraceful comment about a professional senior female police colleague – I did wonder what decade I was in!”
Zoe Billingham, a previous HM inspector of constabulary, warned that she was “really disturbed” by coverage that focused on DSI Smith’s appearance.
“We’ve talked a lot about misogyny and sexism [in recent days] but one of the things that’s really disturbed me over the last day or two is the abuse frankly that the senior investigating officer has herself been exposed to,” the ex-police watchdog told Sky News.
“[She’s a] very competent and able detective, a superintendent, but the media has been poring over what she wore at the press conference, what her hair looked like: this is the 21st century isn’t it? I think Lancashire Police and the detective superintendent in charge should now be able to get on with their job.”
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday morning, the former head of Greater Manchester Police, Sir Peter Fahy, warned such remarks had “created huge anger, particularly among senior female officers”.
Discussing the intense public interest around the case, he said: “It may well be that it’s impossible to counter, but the fact is it gets to the stage where it’s not in the public interest.
“And I think where there’s now a huge feeling in policing that the way Lancashire Police have been focused on has got to the stage of being unfair. It’s not looking at the huge degree of effort they’ve put into it, and particularly over the last few days when certain journalists made personal comments about the dress and hair of the senior detective.
“That’s created huge anger, particularly among senior female officers and a number of female chief constables came out yesterday absolutely to condemn that and say how unfair it was. So this is just not helpful, the whole thing, in terms of this investigation and the poor family getting a result.”
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