Nicola Bulley: Police extend search for missing mum to coast amid crackdown on nuisance ‘sleuths’
Police searching the River Wyre for missing mum Nicola Bulley have extended their search area to the Lancashire coast.
The mum-of-two, 45, disappeared on January 27 while walking her dog in the village of St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, with police theorising she slipped into the river.
Specialist Group International (SGI) – a private company that regularly assists police across the southeast with underwater search operations – joined the massive search operation on Monday.
But after three days spent helping police scour the waterway using a state-of-the-art sonar machine, the team came up empty-handed, describing the case on Wednesday night as a “complete mystery”.
Search teams from Lancashire Police and the Coastguard, including divers, are continuing their search however.
They are now focusing on 10 miles or so of river downstream from the bench where Ms Bulley’s mobile phone was found, where the River Wyre empties into the sea at Morecambe Bay.
The SGI underwater search team and I have completed an extensive and thorough search of sections of the River Wyre and I confirm that Nicola has not been found. Although all tangible leads suggest the river, her whereabouts still remain unknown.#nicolabully #Lancashirepolice pic.twitter.com/CBuB58kUHG
— Peter Faulding (@peter_faulding) February 8, 2023
Meanwhile police have been given the power to break up groups causing a nuisance in the Lancashire village where Ms Bulley vanished.
It comes amid reports of people coming into St Michael's on Wyre and filming properties for use on social media.
Lancashire Police said the order was issued on Wednesday night after reports that people had come to the village from outside the county to film.
The order will remain in place for 48 hours and gives officers the power to disperse anyone committing anti-social behaviour.
Police said two dispersal notices were issued and a number of other people were warned about their behaviour as the force warned it will not tolerate criminality, including trespass and criminal damage.
Officers had previously warned members of the public not to “take the law into their own hands” by breaking into empty or derelict riverside properties to try to find Ms Bulley.
Lancashire Police also said they are looking into a number of “grossly offensive” comments being made on social media and may take legal action “where appropriate”.
Ms Bulley’s disappearance has prompted lurid comment on social media and a steady stream of individuals have appeared in the village, often filming police activity around the area where she disappeared.
Ms Bulley disappeared on the morning of January 27 after taking her daughters, aged nine and six, to school in St Michael’s on Wyre – a few miles from her own village of Inskip.
The mortgage adviser then took her spaniel Willow for a walk along a riverside route in St Michael’s on Wyre she had taken many times before.
She had logged in to a work Microsoft Teams call at 9.01am, which ended at 9.30am though her phone remained connected to the call.
She was seen by another dog walker at 9.10am – the last known sighting of her – and police traced telephone records of her mobile phone as it remained on a bench overlooking the river at 9.20am.
The phone was found by a dog walker around 9.35am, with Willow nearby.
Lancashire Police continues to theorise Ms Bulley tragically fell into the river, and was then unable to get out as she was weighed down by winter clothing and wellington boots.
Peter Faulding, chief executive of SGI, said on Wednesday night his team found “no sign of Nicola” despite a “thorough and extensive search of the areas we were tasked with by Lancashire Police”.
“It’s a total mystery for me,” he said. “In all the searches I’ve done, this is one which will stick with me.
“Normally we get tasked with... searching for a knife or a body and there’s been a witness to a drowning or we’ve got really good intelligence.
“The sort of information we’ve got here is a mobile phone on a bench but we don’t know anything else.
“Is she alive, is she dead? Did she go in the river or didn’t she? And I can’t say one way or another.
“I’m baffled by it and I think most people are.”
Speaking of Ms Bulley’s family, he added: “They’re clearly in distress and they’ve got no answers and nobody can give them any answers.
“It’s difficult. We’re all banging our heads together really.”
Lancashire Police said: “We are grateful to Mr Faulding and his team for the assistance they have given to our search. Our own efforts to find Nicola will continue, and we would appeal to anyone who has any information to get in touch.
“You can call us on 101 quoting log 565 of January 30. For any immediate sightings, please call 999.”
Mr Faulding previously told how SGI’s £55,000 sonar machine is capable of mapping large areas of sea floors and river beds to the search, and “can see every single stick and stone laying on the riverbed”.
Prior to SGI’s involvement – which was given free of charge – police divers and search teams had already spent 10 fruitless days searching the river and surrounding area.
Superintendent Sally Riley told a press conference on Tuesday afternoon a team of 40 detectives are working on approximately 500 different lines of inquiry.
More than 700 drivers who travelled through the village of St Michael’s on Wyre around the time the 45-year-old went missing are also being traced.
However, Supt Riley stressed it is still the force’s belief that Ms Bulley fell in the River Wyre, while she rejected suggestions the missing mother could have been a victim of crime.
Supt Riley said “every single” potential suspicion or criminal suggestion that had come in, had been looked at by detectives and discounted.
“I would like to reassure the community that nothing in this investigation so far, it has been checked out if it has come in suggesting crime, it has been checked and discounted,” she said.
“So every single potential third party line of inquiry and potential suspicious or criminal element has been looked at and discounted.
“It does remain our belief that Nicola sadly fell into the river and that this is a missing persons inquiry.”
Family and friends of Ms Bulley, from the village of Inskip, have questioned the police theory that she fell into the water while walking her dog.
Her sister Louise Cunningham previously urged people to “keep an open mind”, saying there is “no evidence whatsoever” that Ms Bulley fell in the river.
Ms Bulley’s friend Heather Gibbons, speaking from the banks of the river on Tuesday, added: “The truth is in this, nothing is making sense.
“If we look at it factually, no-one knows [what happened to Ms Bulley] until we have some evidence.
“I know that the family are massively appreciative of all the police have done. And if they find nothing, then maybe its time to start looking down other avenues.”
Ms Bulley’s partner of 12 years, Paul Ansell, has also spoken of the family’s heartache and frustration over the case.
“I have two little girls who miss their mummy desperately and who need her back,” he said earlier this week.
“This has been such a tough time for the girls especially but also for me and all of Nicola’s family and friends, as well as the wider community.
“If anyone has any information which could help find Nicola, I urge them to get in touch with the police and help us provide the answers we all so badly need.”