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Nicola Bulley: All the evidence released so far in the case of the missing dog walker

Mother-of-two ‘vanished into thin air’ on Friday 27 January

Joe Sommerlad
Thursday 16 February 2023 12:18 GMT
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'She vanished into thin air': Nicola Bulley's partner speaks following disappearance

Nicola Bulley, a 45-year-old mother-of-two and mortgage adviser, is still missing almost three weeks after she disappeared while out walking her dog having dropped her young daughters off at primary school.

Ms Bulley, originally from Essex but now resident in Inskip, was heading east along the River Wyre in Lancashire with her brown springer spaniel Willow when she vanished near St Michael’s on Wyre at approximately 9.15am on Friday 27 January.

She was seen by at least one fellow dog walker moments before disappearing.

Willow’s lead and harness and Ms Bulley’s mobile phone were subsequently discovered by a nearby bench, the device still connected to a work conference call.

The dog itself was also found shortly after being recognised by a member of the public and reportedly appeared distressed.

Despite extensive search efforts, Ms Bulley has still not been located and her partner, Paul Ansell, 44, has described the situation as a “perpetual hell” for the family.

Speaking to broadcasters, he said: “We’re never going to lose hope, but right now it’s as though she vanished into thin air, it’s just insane… It’s like a dream, I can’t get my head around it.”

More recently, Mr Ansell has expressed “frustration” at the failure of the investigation to yield results, accusing detectives of a lack of “imagination and willpower”.

Offering an update on the case one week on from her disappearance, superintendent Sally Riley told a press conference: “We believe that Nicola was in the riverside area and remained at the riverside area. We remain open to any inquiries that might lead us to question that, but at this time we understand that she was by the river.

“Our main working hypothesis therefore is that Nicola has sadly fallen into the river, that there is no third party or criminal involvement and that this is not suspicious, but a tragic case of a missing person.”

This remains the case, although police have since expanded their investigation to look at the events the day prior to Ms Bulley going missing and have searched the Wyre as far away as Morecambe Bay.

The force has faced criticism for taking two weeks to interview two fisherman spotted in the area while the case’s progress has increasingly been impeded by growing public interest, particularly online, with amateur sleuths weighing in unhelpfully with baseless theories, conjecture, disinformation and even abusive messages to local councillors.

Here is a brief overview of the information released so far as the investigation continues.

Police statements

Lancashire Police first issued a description of Ms Bulley and the clothing she was wearing on the morning she went missing, characterising her as a 5 ft 3in white woman with light brown shoulder-length hair wearing a long black gilet jacket with a hood, black jeans and olive green ankle wellington boots.

Her hair was in a ponytail at the time of her disappearance.

Superintendent Riley said initially: “We know that Nicola going missing has caused a great deal of concern for the wider local community, as well as obviously being an awful time for her family.

Nicola Bulley (Nicola Bulley/Facebook)

“This remains a missing person inquiry and at this time there is nothing to suggest any third-party involvement in Nicola’s disappearance.

“I appreciate that there are unanswered questions about what has happened to Nicola, but I would urge people not to speculate or spread false rumours. We will share updates when we can, but we must be factual.

“Nicola’s family are being kept up to date with events and are being supported by officers.

“We are really grateful for the community’s help and cooperation so far, but I’d like to stress again parts of the riverbank are treacherous, especially after the recent rain, and we would ask that nobody puts themselves in danger and that the police and partner agencies’ efforts to find Nicola are not compromised.”

CCTV

Early on in their investigation, police revealed that another woman had been seen in security camera footage nearby at roughly the same time and asked her to come forward as a potentially valuable witness.

“We would now like to speak to the woman pictured on the CCTV image, who we believe was in the area at the time Nicola was last seen and who may have information that could help us,” the force said in a statement.

“We would stress that the woman is sought as a witness and nothing more. She is described as wearing a red and white coat with a fur hood, light-coloured trousers and a light bobble hat.

The second witness police hoped could provide new information (Lancashire Police)

“She was walking a small, white dog. The woman was seen on CCTV at around 8.48am on Allotment Lane, close to where Nicola was last seen and was also seen near to the gate at the end of Allotment Lane.”

Christine Bowman, 67, duly identified herself but said she had not seen Ms Bulley and was unable to offer any new insights.

Electronic communications

Ms Bulley’s mobile phone has provided a number of clues, including the fact that she sent an email to her boss at 8.53am and a text arranging a playdate for her daughters with a friend at 8.57am. The text came moments before she joined the Microsoft Teams call with her work that was still connected when the device was discovered.

The call was muted and she did not have her camera on, company director Ben Pociecha has since told The Daily Telegraph.

Paul Ansell, Ms Bulley’s partner of 12 years (Sky News )

Her Fitbit account has also reportedly revealed that the route where she was last seen was one she frequently used.

On average, it would take her 30 minutes to complete her regular route and return to her car, which had been parked in the same spot about “1,000 times over” throughout the years, according to her family.

Ms Bulley often shared photos of her riverside runs with Willow on social media, writing in one Facebook in November: “A very foggy cold walk this morning, not a day to forget your gloves. Bit spooky too! Set me up for the day though and Willow had the best time!”

Satellite image

Lancashire Police released a new satellite picture of the area on Thursday 2 February, serving as an annotated map detailing where and when the missing woman was last seen.

This suggested she passed through a wooded area and two more fields before reaching the point at which the trail goes cold.

Map showing Nicola Bulley’s last known movements on Friday 27 January (Lancashire Police)

Clothing

In a press conference on 3 February, Superintendent Riley suggested that an “issue” with Willow might have led Ms Bulley to the water’s edge, given that she was off the lead, although the dog was dry when it was found and Ms Bulley is said by friends to have been an excellent swimmer.

“I don’t wish to speculate,” she added.

She did invite the public living nearby to look out for the missing woman’s clothing, on which she offered more detail, saying: “I do have an update on the clothing that Nicola was last seen wearing, and this is something that the public who live in the area, or who walk their dogs on the river path near to St Michael’s or downstream of St Michael’s towards Morecambe Bay, can look out for.

“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.”

The ‘stained’ glove

The discovery of a lost blue ski glove by two walkers on 7 February was also investigated by Lancashire Police.

The glove is understood to have been spotted several yards away from the bench where Ms Bulley’s mobile phone was found and has been pictured in The Sun.

The walkers alerted the police and the glove was duly bagged and taken away by detectives.

However, the police later confirmed that it had not belonged to Ms Bulley.

Alcohol issues

On 15 February, Lancashire Police unexpectedly revealed for the first time that the missing woman had suffered “significant issues with alcohol” that had been “brought on by her ongoing struggles with the menopause and that these struggles had resurfaced over recent months”.

Officers had been called out to the family’s home on 10 January due to a “concern for welfare” report, the constabulary added.

The force took what it admitted was an “unusual step” of revealing personal details about Ms Bulley’s private life “to avoid any further speculation or misinterpretation”, it said, hitting out at “TikTok detectives” spreading distracting and ill-informed theories about the case online.

The decision to release the insight proved controversial, however, with members of the public denouncing the move as “victim blaming” and MPs including Alicia Kearns and Stella Creasy expressing their disapproval.

Ex-detective Martyn Underhill told Sky News that it could “completely destroy” Ms Bulley’s reputation.

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