Police believe missing dog walker Nicola Bulley fell into River Wyre

Detectives say mother of two probably fell suddenly as they appeal to people to look out for her clothing

Thomas Kingsley,Jane Dalton
Friday 03 February 2023 22:12 GMT
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Missing dog walker Nicola Bulley likely fell into river, police say

Police believe missing Nicola Bulley is likely to have fallen into a river while walking her dog and do not think there is any criminal involvement or third party involvement.

Lancashire Police said their main hypothesis was that the mother of two fell suddenly during a 10-minute window after the last known sighting of her and that this is not suspicious but a tragic case of a missing person.

After tracing local CCTV, dashcam and doorbell camera footage, police are confident Ms Bulley did not leave the area near the river.

They say she might have been trying to deal with an “issue” with her springer spaniel Willow, causing her to go to the edge of the River Wyre and into the water, the officer in charge of the missing person investigation said.

“We assume the dog didn’t get into the river, but we don’t know why Nicola may have if she did,” said Superintendent Sally Riley.

Nicola Bulley has been missing since 27 January
Nicola Bulley has been missing since 27 January (Nicola Bulley/Facebook)

When another dog walker found Ms Bulley’s phone on a bench beside the river, Willow was darting between the two.

A massive manhunt was launched along the River Wyre in the village of St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, after the 45-year-old, from nearby Inskip, disappeared on Friday 27 January around 9.20-9.30am.

Earlier, she had dropped off her two daughters, aged six and nine, at a nearby primary school.

Her partner, Paul Ansell, 44, said on Friday: “We’re never going to lose hope, but right now it’s as though she vanished into thin air, it’s just insane.

“I can’t believe we’re a week on and yet it seems we’re no further on – it seems absolutely impossible. It’s like a dream, I can’t get my head around it.”

His focus was on staying as strong as possible for their two daughters, he said. “I’m scared that if I put focus into anything else it’s going to take my focus off that.”

Support from the community had given the family “a great amount of comfort”, Mr Ansell said.

Police officers in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire
Police officers in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire (PA Wire)

Police drones, a helicopter, sniffer dogs and mountain rescue teams all joined the search during the week, and her heartbroken family and friends made desperate pleas for information.

Detectives appealed to the public to look out for items of clothing Ms Bulley had been wearing.

Ms Riley said: “They are an ankle-length black quilted gilet jacket, a black Engelbert Strauss waist-length coat which was worn underneath the gilet, tight-fitting black jeans, long green walking socks tucked into her jeans, ankle-length green Next wellies, a necklace and a pale blue Fitbit.

“It’s really important that the public pay heed to those very specific clothing descriptions please, because factual sightings of those items would be very useful to us.”

Map showing Nicola Bulley’s movement
Map showing Nicola Bulley’s movement (Lancashire Police)

The disappearance was not being treated as suspicious but was a “tragic case of a missing person”, Ms Riley said.

The last confirmed sighting of mortgage adviser Ms Bulley was at 9.10am that day, when she was seen on Upper Field walking her spaniel, Willow, who was off the lead, as normal, the superintendent added.

Police who traced records of her phone use say her mobile was on a bench at 9.20am, while connected to a work Teams meeting, which ended 10 minutes later.

Ms Riley said: “Our main working hypothesis is that Nicola has suddenly fallen into the river, that there’s no third party or criminal involvement, and that this is not suspicious but a tragic case of a missing person.

“This is particularly important because speculation otherwise can be really distressing for the family and for Nicola’s children.”

Nicola Bulley’s partner Paul Ansell said he is trying to stay strong for their two children
Nicola Bulley’s partner Paul Ansell said he is trying to stay strong for their two children (Sky News)

Ms Riley told a press conference in the village that an unprecedented amount of police resources were being used to search the surface of the river and under the water and the surrounding farmland.

On Friday morning, members of the community stood by the side of the road holding signs bearing Ms Bulley’s photo, urging people to contact police with information.

Ms Bulley’s sister, Louise Cunningham, had said “people don’t just vanish into thin air”, and friends of the family said Ms Bulley’s daughters had been asking: “Where’s Mummy? How is Mummy?”

Her tearful father Ernie Bulley said Nicola’s young daughters still believed it is “only a matter of time” before their mother comes home.

He said he would “do anything” to find his missing daughter.

Another dog walker, Christine Bowman, whom police had hoped could be a potential witness, said she had not seen Ms Bulley.

“It has made local women fearful. If they have husbands or partners, they have been taking the dogs out instead,” she said.

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