Diver’s doubts on Nicola Bulley drowning ‘made police job more difficult’

Peter Faulding speaks to the media about the underwater search for Nicola Bulley
Peter Faulding speaks to the media about the underwater search for Nicola Bulley - Danny Lawson/PA

A diver influenced Nicola Bulley’s family into believing a third party was involved in her disappearance, a report has found.

Peter Faulding, an underwater search expert, convinced them the mother of two had not fallen into the River Wyre and made the police’s job more difficult, a review of the investigation concluded.

Mr Faulding, the founder of Specialist Group International (SGI), was asked to help look for Ms Bulley by her family on Feb 5 after he gave an interview in which he cast doubt on the police’s theory that she had slipped into the freezing water.

Despite police claiming he had signed a non disclosure agreement, the review said Mr Faulding had continued to engage with the media, “providing his views and opinions on Nicola’s disappearance”.

The review said this included statements in which he suggested Ms Bulley’s body would not be found in the river.

The review stated: “It was assessed by Lancashire Constabulary that he used his conversations with the family to provide quotes to the media, and that he influenced the family into believing that Nicola had not entered the river and that a third party was involved.”

Nicola Bulley, who went missing while walking her dog by the River Wyre
Nicola Bulley, who went missing while walking her dog by the River Wyre - PA

Police initially rejected Mr Faulding’s offer of help, insisting they had all the resources and expertise they needed.

But the review revealed that he had been invited to assist after Ms Bulley’s family threatened to release a “negative press release” to the media if his free offer of help was rejected.

The report stated: “Lancashire Constabulary felt that this would undermine public trust and confidence and, therefore, subsequently agreed to allow the use of SGI to support them in their search efforts to locate Nicola.”

On Feb 9, it was claimed Mr Faulding had asked for a senior police officer and a member of the family to pose with him at the scene for a photo opportunity.

The review stated: “It was clear that some of the behaviour and activities demonstrated by Mr Faulding caused challenges to the investigation.”

In addition to his regular appearances in the media, Lancashire Police said Mr Faulding had also operated beyond the terms of his agreement with the force.

‘Seen digging with a spade in woodland’

The review said: “This included an incident on Feb 8, when he was observed digging with a spade in woodland near the river.

“This search activity had not been sanctioned by the Police Search Advisors (PolSA) lead and Mr Faulding had not undertaken any forensic precautions to ensure the safe recovery of forensic evidence. This activity fell outside of the agreed terms of engagement, where any forensic recovery should not be undertaken.”

The report further criticised Mr Faulding for wrongly informing the family he thought he had identified a body in the river.

“As part of this review, Lancashire Constabulary suggested that this had caused unwarranted distress and false alarm.

“Lancashire Constabulary also stated that the activity of Mr Faulding resulted in the diversion of police resources to the family to remedy the situation.”

Peter Faulding, right, seen during the search for Nicola
Peter Faulding, right, seen during the search for Nicola - Danny Lawson/PA

In a statement, Mr Faulding denied being told he should not speak to the media and blamed the Lancashire force’s poor media strategy for allowing matters to get out of control.

He said: “At no time was I ever briefed or advised specifically not to speak to the media. Failings by the police to control the media left me in a situation where I was swarmed for information.”

He also denied requesting a photo opportunity at the scene, insisting that was a “gross misrepresentation of the facts”.

Mr Faulding added: “My team and I pride ourselves by always acting with honesty, integrity, dignity and professionalism in all aspects of our work, especially when assisting the police and families who have lost loved ones.”

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