Nicola Bulley's friends and family question police's drowning theory

‘We still have no evidence’: Missing Nicola Bulley’s friend joins family in questioning police hypothesis that she drowned while fetching dog’s ball – as expert says we may NEVER know what happened

  • Missing mother Nicola Bulley’s family are clinging to hope she is still alive
  • There are ten crucial minutes in which Nicola is thought to have disappeared
  • Follow live updates on the search operation with MailOnline’s live blog here 

Friends of missing mother-of-two Nicola Bulley have joined family members in questioning Lancashire Police’s belief that the 45-year-old drowned after falling into a river, as criminal experts warn her disappearance may never be solved.

Despite no signs of her having fallen such as footprints or disturbed mud, police said yesterday they have ‘no evidence whatsoever that there is anything suspicious about her disappearance or any third-party involvement in her going missing.’

They added their main ‘hypothesis’ is that Ms Bulley fell into the river, possibly while trying to help her dog or retrieve her dog’s ball.

But friends and family have shared their frustration at the public statement and urged the public to continue sharing their appeal to find her.

It comes as experts warn the mother-of-two could have been abducted and criticise the police for ‘not wanting to consider’ the possibility.

Nicola Bulley’s sister (pictured together) warned there is ‘no evidence whatsoever’ that suggests the missing mother fell in the river, despite police confirming it’s their lead theory

Ms Bulley’s sister Louise Cunningham urged the public to keep an open mind in a social media post, tagging Ms Bulley’s partner Paul Ansell in the post

Ms Bulley’s friend, Emma White, told Sky News: ‘You don’t base life on a hypothesis’

On Friday Ms Bulley’s sister Louise Cunningham urged the public to keep sharing their appeal to find her.

‘Off the back of the latest police media update, please can I add there is no evidence whatsoever that she has gone into the river, it’s just a theory,’ she said.

‘Everyone needs to keep an open mind as not all CCTV and leads have been investigated fully, the police confirmed the case is far from over.’

Ms Bulley’s friend, Emma White, also cast doubt on the police theory, telling Sky News it was based on ‘limited information’.

‘When we are talking about a life we can’t base it on a hypothesis – surely we need this factual evidence,’ she said.

‘That’s what the family and all of us are holding on to – that we are sadly no further on than last Friday.

‘We still have no evidence, and that’s why we’re out together in force.

‘You don’t base life on a hypothesis.’

Police have been trying to find out what happened to missing mother Nicola Bulley in a crucial ten-minute window after she was last spotted. 

Ms Bulley, 45, mother to two daughters aged nine and six, was last seen by a witness at 9.10am on January 27 while walking her dog, but it remains unknown what she did until 9.20am, when police know her phone was placed on the bench where it was later discovered.

On Saturday a police helicopter was seen continuing the search for Nicola over the village of St Michael’s on Wyre, where she lives with her partner and two children. 

Criminal psychologist Dr David Holmes told MailOnline he believes police may never find out what happened to Ms Bulley. 

He criticised the police’s statement on Friday which saw Supt Riley tell the media officers believe the 45-year-old fell into the River Wyre.

Dr Holmes said: ‘I don’t see the police putting forward any evidence that she slipped down the bank, it doesn’t really tie in with the phone left on the bench or the dog running from the between the bench and the gate.

‘It doesn’t add up unless the police are doing something else in the background.’ 

He added he hoped the police are ‘playing a quiet game’ in order to ‘try and flush out’ potential suspects, but said he thought that was unlikely.

He told MailOnline it is ‘worrying’ the police ‘do not want to seem to consider’ that foul play was involved in Ms Bulley’s disappearance, and questioned whether the police were truly ‘doing their job properly’ if they were not actively considering third-party involvement.

He continued: ‘If she was abducted it would almost have certainly been done by car which would mean that the 10 minute window could work if they had a weapon.

‘Clearly it wasn’t observed, there were no witnesses or they didn’t notice it. It would seem that they’ve [the police] played this game  in complete darkness as far as the public are concerned, or they’ve not been playing any clever kind of game whatsoever.

‘We would certainly be dealing with someone who is organised, mobile, who has come in with stealth and not been noticed. 

‘So it’s somebody really sophisticated and it looks like she would be well out of the area by now.’

Police search teams near the bench where Nicola Bulley’s phone was found, on the banks of the River Wyre on Saturday

A police helicopter was seen over St Michael’s on Wyre in Lancashire on Saturday

Police officers in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, on Saturday as police continue their search for missing woman Nicola Bulley, 45

Officers were seen in lines walking close to the river bank on both sides on Saturday morning

Nicola, 45, disappeared shortly after dropping her two daughters off at school on January 27

Officers have been seen walking the tow path next to the river, a route Ms Bulley often took after dropping her daughters off at school

Willow was known to play with a ball in the area – and even sometimes the river – as evidenced by Ms Bulley’s Strava account pictures 

Police say it is possible Ms Bulley was attempting to help her dog Willow (pictured) or retrieve a tennis ball for her and then fell into the river 

Ms Bulley’s distraught partner attempted to remain composed as he told the media he was trying to protect his daughters

Divers will continue looking for the missing mother throughout Saturday 

Dr Holmes said the circumstances of Ms Bulley’s disappearance may never be known. 

Police told media at a press conference on Friday that they are ‘as confident as we can be’ that Ms Bulley did not leave the riverside where she was last seen.

But they said there are other lines of inquiry, including a ‘very small area’ leading out of the park which has no CCTV nearby and could be crucial to the development of the investigation. 

Substantial CCTV in the region has all but ruled out she exited the park from most of the surrounding gates, but the path leading to Garstang Lane toward the A5/A6 has thus far proven to be a camera black spot.

Lancashire Police Superintendent Sally Riley told the Lancashire Post: ‘Several exits of the riverside area have CCTV covering them or exits are locked and therefore couldn’t have been passed through by Nicola. 

‘There’s only a very small area onto Garstang Lane toward the A5/A6 which is not covered by CCTV and that’s why we’re appealing today for dashcam footage or for people who may have been walking on Garstang Lane or driving in the area to come forward if they can.’ 

While police are still investigating, their lead theory is that for some as yet unknown reason, she did enter the river on the morning of Friday January 27, shortly after dropping her daughters, aged six and nine, at school.

Since then Ms Bulley’s distraught family have been clinging to hope she may still be alive.

As the search for Ms Bulley enters its ninth day, the mysteries surrounding the mother-of-two’s disappearance remain.

Pictured: Ms Bulley’s devastated parents Ernie and Dot, and sister Louise speaking to the media earlier this week

Pictured: Ms Bulley’s distraught partner, Paul Ansell, said on Friday it was as if Nicola had ‘vanished into thin air’

Police expressed concerns that the missing mother-of-two may have wound up in the icy cold water on River Wyre while trying to retrieve her dog Willow’s tennis ball 

Police released a detailed timeline of Ms Bulley’s morning, revealing she was last seen walking her dog along the river by a witness who is known to her. The witness saw her dog was off the lead and not wearing its harness.

Ten minutes later, at 9.20am, the police know her phone was on the bench it would later be found.

At 9.33am Nicola’s dog was found running around in an agitated state, near to the bench where her phone, the dog’s lead and harness were lying.

A key part of the investigation concerns what happened during those missing ten minutes – this could drastically help move the police investigation forwards.

Investigators are also trying to substantiate whether Ms Bulley put her phone down on the bench herself because her dog was in danger. 

The banks of the river are known to be treacherous and slippery, and Ms Bulley could have fallen in and become weighed down by her heavy clothing. But no footsteps or sign of a fall have been located in the area, her family have said. 

Another crucial line of investigation is where Ms Bulley’s possessions may be now. She was last seen wearing an ankle-length black quilted gilet jacket, a black Engelbert Strauss waist-length coat, tight-fitting jeans and green wellies.

She had a necklace on and a pale blue Fitbit strapped to her wrist as she took her Spaniel, Willow, on a brisk walk through River Wyre – a route she took often after dropping her daughters to school nearby.

The police are searching a 10-mile stretch of river to the Irish sea but have so far found no sign of the 45-year-old. 

Members of the public are urged to look out for anything which could belong to her and contact police if they find any clothing which matches the description.

Police said on Friday their main hypothesis is that Ms Bulley fell into the Wyre while attempting to help her dog.

But when Willow was discovered she was found to be ‘bone dry’, meaning she ould not have entered the water at any point. She was also described as agitated when discovered by another walker.

One theory suggests that rather than trying to assist Willow, Ms Bulley could have been trying to retrieve her dog’s ball if it rolled into a location too difficult for the dog to retrieve it. 

Photographs show she often let her dog off the lead to play near the river, and the ball may have slipped down the riverbank. No ball has been found at the scene or in searches by police, but it could have fallen into the river and become lost. 

When Willow was found by another dog-walker – just 13 minutes after Ms Bulley vanished – she was ‘bone dry’, leading police to determine she likely had not been in the water, despite being alone, out of her harness and ‘worked up’. 

Last night Ms Bulley’s family were finding the candid police assessment ‘hard to contemplate’ but continued to hold onto hope, the Mail was told.

Ms Bulley’s desperate parents, sister, partner and daughters have all been living a nightmare over the past week. 

Partner Paul Ansell, a 44-year-old company director, shares the bewilderment of millions who had followed the agonising mystery since his partner of 12 years disappeared.

Over the weekend he is reportedly trying to keep things as normal as possible for his daughters, taking them to weekly clubs and allowing them to have a sleepover with friends. 

At the scene yesterday he said: ‘My whole focus is my two girls, just staying as strong as I can for them. I’m scared that if I put focus into anything else it’s going to take my focus off that. 

‘I just can’t believe we’re a week on, and it seems like we’re no further on. It just seems absolutely impossible. Like a dream. I cannot get my head around it. Right now it’s like she’s vanished into thin air, it’s insane.’

Friend Luke Sumner acknowledged the evidence thus far does appear to point to the river.

‘It’s very, very wet, the banks can be quite steep in certain areas, and the current can be quite fast,’ he told Radio 4’s PM programme. But he said family and friends continued ‘clinging to any hope there is’.

Speaking to MailOnline following a press conference in the village of St Michael’s on Wyre, Supt Riley said officers were looking at all scenarios, including that Ms Bulley got into trouble trying to retrieve Willow’s ball.

Police divers have reportedly not yet located anything of note in the river after nine days of searching

Specialist crews were on the water on Friday searching for clues

Police divers from North West Police Underwater Unit returned to the River Wyre yesterday to continue scouring the riverbed for clues

Nicola Bulley’s daughters ‘miss their mummy’ as they point out their hair ‘was not done how she does it’: READ MORE 

Supt Riley said: ‘I’m not aware of a dog ball being retrieved but it’s possible that a ball could have rolled down the steep bank close to the edge of the water and Ms Bulley was bending down to pick it up.

‘What she was wearing could also be a factor.

‘I don’t wish to speculate but the facts are that she was wearing a quilted, ankle-length gilet, which is a big coat, and underneath that there was another coat and then under that coat more clothing.

‘She was also wearing ankle-length wellingtons. One would assume they fill with water when someone enters a river so all of that clothing is heavy, particularly on someone who is of slight build and only five foot three.’

Outdoor swimming expert Camilla Golledge told MailOnline the shock of the cold water could also limit a person’s ability to swim to safety. 

The Kent-based instructor said: ‘People are experiencing cold water shock at the moment because the water is so cold… which means that your natural response if to take a big gasp of air, meaning water will fill your lungs.

‘Everybody would experience it unless you are an experienced outdoor swimmer.

‘It has less to do with the clothes. They certainly won’t help.’

Nicola Bulley kept a harness on her dog for walks – prompting questions about why it was found near to where she vanished, but police say this was not out of the ordinary

The process of searching the river is tedious and slow moving, but police remain hopeful

Police were pictured on the riverbank yesterday as the investigation carried on

She said Ms Bulley may have been unable to call for help, especially because her clothes and wellies would have weighed her down.

‘Most people suffering from cold water shock or drowning in open water are people that did not mean to be there,’ Ms Golledge said.

‘What you need to do is coach your breathing, get in slowly, rather than falling or jumping in.

‘Even I as an experienced open water swimmer, I get in slowly and I have to coach my breathing. My body does feel shock with that unnatural breath in.’

READ MORE: Friends fear Nicola Bulley ‘slipped down steep and muddy riverbank’ while walking her dog

Supt Riley said there were no reports of anyone in distress, no shouting or splashing, and no footprints were found on the bank. 

Search teams from Lancashire Constabulary are continuing to trawl the River Wyre. 

Detectives are also working behind the scenes to analyse CCTV and dashcam videos, and members of the public with footage which could be useful have been urged to come forward.

Friends of the family said on Friday that Ms Bulley’s daughters had been asking: ‘Where’s Mummy? How is Mummy?’ 

Social media sleuths sharing theories about Ms Bulley’s disappearance online have been warned they’re only adding to the hurt and pain felt by her family.

A friend said: ‘They perhaps need to find a better way of occupying their time… They could do something more useful and proactive with their time… help search, share posters, but allegations are cruel and unhelpful.’

Armchair detectives and well-meaning strangers have made wild allegations in the days since Ms Bulley vanished. 

Some people claiming to be psychics say they had visions of the mother-of-two in the river, while others insist she was ‘taken’ – despite repeated police statements saying there does not appear to be third party involvement.

Speaking to The Mirror, a friend said she believes these outlandish hypotheses are the work of ‘attention seekers’, describing the comments as ‘cruel, unhelpful’ and hurtful to Ms Bulley’s loved ones.

The missing mortgage adviser, 45, sent a text to a friend organising a playdate for their children minutes before she vanished, it emerged yesterday. 

A resident of St Michael’s on Wyre told the publication: ‘She booked a playdate, 8.57am, she sent a text message to a friend whose mortgage she had just recently signed off on to arrange for the girls to go for tea this week.’

The local, who did not want to be named, said this was more evidence that she had no intention of voluntarily disappearing, adding: ‘You wouldn’t have done that if you were going to get up and go missing.’

Mr Ansell tried to gently break the news of her disappearance to their two daughters, who are now confused and continuing to ask their grandparents when she is coming home

Specialist police are seen here moving the boat down into the water to resume the search

Specialist police officers have scanned the section of the River Wyre close to the bench where her mobile phone was recovered later in the morning last Friday.

The spot is 300m away from a weir, which divides the river between tidal and non-tidal.

Nothing of note had been found, the officer said, but she added that a ‘large mass’ could go over that weir downstream, which would present ‘more complexities and challenges’ as it flows out to the coast nine miles away at Fleetwood.

Officers have scoured the riverbed with modern underwater drones, which are similar to mini submarines equipped with cameras operated by someone on land or on a boat.

Author and former soldier Chris Ryan, who goes by ChrisRyanMM and was a member of the British Army’s elite SAS squadron for a decade, also highlighted the struggles Nicola would have faced if she did fall in the water.

Members of the public line the road into St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, with missing posters of Ms Bulley 

This aerial view shows the vast, expansive land which has been at the centre of the police search

‘It is an awful case and my heart goes out to her and her family. During my SAS service I was part of three missions involving river falls and sadly, people can underestimate the power of water along with the dangers of an unstable riverbank,’ he told MailOnline.

‘We all take these walks and on any given day they go by without incident. Collapses aren’t always predictable, so the surprise will often dictate the way in which a person enters the water, for example head first. Then consider several other factors like shock, undercurrents, debris and clothing.

‘A grown adult can be swept away in as little as 17 inches of fast flowing water. Then consider a swollen and fast flowing river with a lot of loose debris. If a person falls into a river, their clothes will absorb the water and that extra weight would make swimming or staying above the surface very difficult.’

He added: ‘I really hope this young woman is found soon, I walk my dog along a river so know too well that at first glance it’s a lovely place to be.’

The bench where Ms Bulley is thought to have left her mobile phone before she vanished

A police officer guarding the entrance to the path where Ms Bulley was last seen

The 67-year-old woman in a red coat who was the subject of a police witness appeal told officers she did not see Ms Bulley during her walk 

Earlier this week, police issued a public appeal for a woman seen in CCTV wearing a red coat on the River Wyre around the time Ms Bulley vanished. 

MailOnline revealed the 67-year-old woman, Christine Bowman, told police she did not see Ms Bulley during her walk with her own dog Snowflake.

Why hasn’t Nicola Bulley been found in the river and why was her dog’s harness removed? Fifteen vital questions about mother-of-two’s disappearance


Ms Bowman said she was baffled by the appeal to track her down because she had already spoken to officers on the day Ms Bulley disappeared – and she ‘doesn’t know anything’.

The local resident – who police hoped could provide key pieces of information in the search for Ms Bulley – does not travel as far as the bench where the missing mother’s phone and dog were found. 

‘The security camera footage that she was caught on was taken from the caravan park next to the towpath.

‘That’s as far as she goes, she doesn’t walk her dog further along the footpath than that point.’

It’s a devastating blow for Ms Bulley’s family, who have been waiting with bated breath for updates in the investigation.

In the appeal to track down the woman, a spokesman for Lancashire Police said: ‘She is described as wearing a red and white coat with a fur hood, light-coloured trousers and a light bobble hat.

A friend said: ‘Their paths did not cross, she has no information on where Nicola could be sadly.’ 

As the investigation continues, a source from St Michael’s Angling Association said the stretch of river where Ms Bulley vanished is notorious and ‘very dangerous’, with a depth of about 15ft. 

‘The combination of the depth and how cold it is at this time of year makes it very dangerous,’ he told The Times.

‘I certainly would not want to fall in there and I’m a very strong swimmer.’ Specialist police divers have been painstakingly searching the riverbed for clues. 

Officers taped off Skippool Creek car park by the River Wyre in Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire, with investigators wearing white forensic suits seen carrying away bags of evidence 

Nicola Bulley’s disappearance: A timeline 

– January 27 

The 45-year-old dropped her daughters – aged six and nine – off at school in the morning before walking her dog, Willow, in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire. 

Lancashire Police have said the mortgage adviser, from nearby Inskip, had been walking along a path beside the River Wyre just before 9am. 

She was seen by a dog walker who knew her at around 8.50am, and their pets interacted briefly before they parted ways, according to the force. 

At 8.53am, Ms Bulley sent an email to her boss, before logging on to a Microsoft Teams call at 9.01am. She was seen by a second witness at 9.10am – the last known sighting.

By 9.30am, Ms Bulley’s Teams call had ended, but her phone stayed connected to the call. Approximately five minutes later, another dog walker found her phone on a bench beside the river, with Willow darting between the two. 

At 10.50am, Ms Bulley’s family and the school attended by her children were told about her disappearance. 

Lancashire Constabulary launched an investigation into Ms Bulley’s whereabouts on the same day and appealed for witnesses to contact them.

 – January 28 

Lancashire Constabulary deployed drones, helicopters and police search dogs as part of the major missing person operation. 

They were assisted by Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, as well as Bowland Pennine Mountain Rescue team and the North West Underwater Search Team. 

– January 29 

Local residents held a meeting at the village hall to organise a search for Ms Bulley at 10.30am on Sunday, according to reports from The Mirror, and around 100 people joined the search.

Police urged volunteers to exercise caution, describing the river and its banks as ‘extremely dangerous’ and saying that activity in these areas presented ‘a genuine risk to the public’. 

– January 30 

Superintendent Sally Riley from Lancashire Constabulary said police were ‘keeping a really open mind about what could have happened’, and that they were not treating Ms Bulley’s disappearance as suspicious. 

– January 31 

Lancashire Constabulary spoke with a potential witness – a man who had been walking a small white fluffy dog near the River Wyre at the time of Ms Bulley’s disappearance. 

Her family released a statement saying they had been ‘overwhelmed by the support’ in their community, and that her daughters were ‘desperate to have their mummy back home safe’. 

– February 1 

Ms Bulley’s parents, Ernest and Dot Bulley, spoke to The Mirror about the ‘horror’ they faced over the possibility of never seeing her again. 

Her father told the newspaper: ‘We just dread to think we will never see her again, if the worst came to the worst and she was never found, how will we deal with that for the rest of our lives.’ 

– February 2 

Lancashire Constabulary spoke with a second witness who they had identified with the help of the public using CCTV – but they told police they did not have any further information to aid their inquiry. 

Officers from the North West Police Underwater and Marine support unit searched the area close to where Ms Bulley’s mobile phone was found, while police divers scoured the River Wyre. 

Meanwhile, Ms Bulley’s family appealed to the public for help tracing her. Speaking with Sky News, her sister Louise Cunningham said: ‘There has got to be somebody who knows something and all we are asking is, no matter how small or big, if there is anything you remember that doesn’t seem right, then please reach out to the police. 

‘Get in touch and get my sister back.’ Ms Bulley’s father said that his family hoped their interview would ‘spark a light’ that would lead to her being found. 

– February 3 

Lancashire Police said they were working on the hypothesis that Ms Bulley may have fallen into the River Wyre. 

Superintendent Sally Riley urged against speculation, but said it was ‘possible’ that an ‘issue’ with Ms Bulley’s dog may have led her to the water’s edge. 

She urged the public to look out for items of clothing Ms Bulley was last seen wearing, and gave an extensive list. 

Ms Bulley’s friends also shared heartfelt appeals via television interviews, including Emma White, who told the BBC that Ms Bulley’s daughters were continually asking where she was. 

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