Detectives investigating Nicola Bulley’s disappearance made a mistake by prematurely declaring she was in the River Wyre, a diving and forensics expert involved in the case has claimed.
Peter Faulding, whose firm International Specialist Group searched a stretch of the river where Ms Bulley was last seen, said Lancashire Constabulary should initially keep other lines of inquiry open for longer.
Ms Bulley, 45, from Inskip, Lancashire, disappeared while walking her dog in a park near the river in St Michaels on Wyre on the morning of January 27 after dropping her two children off at school.
Her mobile phone and spring spaniel, Willow, were found next to a bench in the park. Despite two sightings of Miss Bulley in the hour before she disappeared and an extensive search of the area, police were unable to find any trace of her.
Paul Ansell, Ms Bulley’s partner, said he is “100 per cent sure” she is not in the river and suggested someone “who knows the local area” could be involved in the mother-of-two’s disappearance.
Mr Faulding, who has worked on a series of high-profile missing persons cases – including MI6 officer Gareth Williams who was found exposed inside a locked bag – said there could be a third party involved and suggested that Ms Bulley’s phone could be placed. on the bench to act as a “deception”.
He criticized the Lancashire Constabulary investigation into the event and in an interview with the Email cast fresh doubt on the theory that Ms Bulley was in the river.
“I think the worst mistake the police made was to confirm early that she is in the river instead of saying ‘let’s keep the lines of inquiry open,'” he said. “This is a woman who was known as a challenger in this area, she was slim and fit, and if she had fallen she might have hit the bank.”
Ms Bulley, a mortgage adviser, left her home at around 8.26am on the morning of her disappearance. She dropped her children off at school at 8.40am and had a short chat with a parent.
At 8.43am she started walking along the path along the River Wyre towards the gate/bench into the lower field.
At around 8.47 a dog walker – someone who knows Ms Bulley – saw her walking around the lower field with her dog. The two dogs had a brief interaction before the witness left the park via the river path.
Over the next 14 minutes Ms Bulley emailed her manager, messaged a friend and then logged into a Microsoft Teams work call at 9.01am.
At about 9.10am the second witness saw her on the upper field walking her dog. Lancashire Police previously said work was underway to establish the exact time of the incident.
At 9.20am her phone was back in the bench area. 10 minutes later the Teams call ended but Miss Bulley remained logged on.
Ms Bulley’s phone and dog were then found on a bench near the river by another dog walker at around 9.33am.
In an interview with Channel 5, Mr Ansell explained that he and his partner did the walk where she had gone for many years.
He said that someone in the village must know what happened to Mrs Bulley.
“Whatever happened – in my eyes – it has to be someone who knows the local area, who knows that. And because nothing can be seen or heard, I truly believe it is something in the village,” he said.
Mr Ansell also became emotional as he dealt with his wife’s passing.
“It’s scary because you guys don’t disappear into thin air. It is absolutely impossible. So something has happened.”
He continued to ask for his partner to step up.
“My plea now is personally, I want to scrutinize every house, every garage, every outbuilding, every land. I want to search it all. I want it scrutinized, every bit of it. And I am, you will not appease me with anything else. That, that’s what I want to happen.”
Miss Bulley is 5ft 3in tall, with shoulder-length light brown hair and speaks with an Essex accent. She was last seen wearing a black knee-length quilted top with a hood.
She wore a black Engelbert Strauss coat underneath that had long sleeves and reached her waist.
She was wearing tight black jeans and long green walking socks were tucked into her jeans. She wore size 5 ankle length green well boots from Next.
Her hair was tied in a ponytail and she was wearing a pale blue Fitbit watch.
In an update on Friday, Lancashire Constabulary said they were “keeping an open mind” about what happened but were continuing to search the river.
However, the focus of the investigation has moved further downstream into the tidal area of the river and from there towards the coast.
“Based on all the work we’ve done so far we still believe Nicola could have fallen into the river for some reason, but we’re continuing to investigate all possible leads, and this involves looking at CCTV, dashcam footage and talking to people providing us with information,” the force said in a statement.
“It remains true that in all the extensive inquiries we have made so far there is nothing to suggest that anything wrong has happened or that any third party is involved in Nicola’s disappearance, but the investigation is ongoing .
“During this investigation we are keeping an open mind as to what could have happened to Nicola, and we continue to look at all possible scenarios to eliminate them. We are regularly reviewing our decisions.”