Nicola Bulley: Police confirm body in river is missing mum
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An ex-detective has raised questions about Lancashire police after it was not officers who discovered Nicola Bulley’s body – but two passers-by. The missing mum-of-two, 45, was found 23 days after she was first reported missing by her partner of 12 years Paul Ansell, with her body in the river that had been the focus of police’s search from the start.
A private search company, led by dive expert Peter Faulding, was brought in to provide their services, scanning the river with a hi-tech sonar.
A former homicide detective said that river searches could be very complicated, due to the way conditions can quickly change.
But he added that Lancashire police and Mr Faulding’s company may have their reputations brought into question by their failure to find Ms Bulley.
He told the Times: “It’s important to emphasise we don’t know all the facts. However, it does seem pretty extraordinary given the level of searches in that area.”
Some reports have suggested the body was trapped among reeds, but the detective remarked: “The police had underwater drones and the private company had 3D scanners for that reason, so it seems unlikely.”
He said, therefore, that there were only “two possibilities – the body was weighed down or there were failures in the search”.
But Mr Faulding, speaking to True Crime Newsquest on February 9, said a body caught among reeds would not be able to be picked up on sonar. The investigator said there were “various areas of reeds and things where bodies could potentially get lodged” in the river.
However he added at the time that there were “not many” of these hazards, saying: “I’m quite happy that that area has been cleared as well.”
Soon after Ms Bulley’s disappearance was reported, Lancashire police said their working hypothesis was that she had fallen into the river. They favoured this over theories that she had done so voluntarily, or that she had been harmed by an unknown third party.
When Superintendent Sally Riley was asked on February 3 – five days after the investigation began – whether Ms Bulley had any relevant health issues or medication which could have been a factor, she said: “We clearly considered the whole picture but that is not relevant at this time; no, not at all.”
Two weeks later, in a press conference during which the force demanded an end to rampant speculation about the case, they said Ms Bulley suffered from specific “vulnerabilities” that made her a “high risk” missing person.
However, when this seemed only to spur armchair detectives on to spread further rumours about the family, police then clarified that Nicola had “significant issues with alcohol”, and officers had even been to her house after a report of concern for welfare. Lancashire Police are now facing an internal investigation about the decision to reveal such private information about a missing person, and has referred to itself to the police watchdog – the Independent Office for Police Conduct.
One friend anonymously told the Mirror that they suspected Lancashire police had made the revelation “to shift the focus onto this, rather than on them and their lack of progress”.
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Nazir Afzal, a former chief crown prosecutor for northwest England, said: “In many respects, the police have been vindicated. A lot of people online — armchair sleuths — have been suggesting something more nefarious then what happened.
“I’m no expert on underwater search teams. But there was an underwater search team. They said it was very difficult circumstances in which to try and locate the body. The experts know what they are doing. But, clearly, questions will have to be asked about why the body wasn’t located earlier, given the area where they were searching and where the body was eventually found.”
He added that revealing Ms Bulley’s problems with alcohol was “absolutely uncalled for” and had “no excuse.”
Mr Afzal said: “It did nothing to help find her, and all it did was give those who wish to blame victims more fuel to add to the fire. It did nothing for the investigation.”
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