Saturday, 2 Mar 2024

Formal ID process ‘could take days’

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The process of identifying a body found in the River Wyre near where Nicola Bulley went missing could take days. Ms Bulley, 45, had been walking her dog, Willow, by the river near St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, when she went missing on January 27. It is understood formal identification could take some time, has been told.

It is understood a man and a woman who were walking their dog on Sunday (February 19) discovered the body and called police.

Lancashire Constabulary said officers were called to the River Wyre close to Rawcliffe Road at about 11.35am.

The force said in a statement: “An underwater search team and specialist officers have subsequently attended the scene, entered the water and have sadly recovered a body.

“No formal identification has yet been carried out, so we are unable to say whether this is Nicola Bulley at this time. Procedures to identify the body are ongoing. We are currently treating the death as unexplained.

“Nicola’s family have been informed of developments and our thoughts are with them at this most difficult of times. We ask that their privacy is respected.”

It is expected Ms Bulley’s partner, Paul Ansell, or another close relative will be asked to help identify the body.

Retired Scotland Yard detective inspector Hamish Brown told GB News: “The identification process isn’t pleasant for anyone. I’m afraid it’s just another line of unpleasant torture for the family, but something nevertheless that must be done.”

Mr Brown explained it depends on the condition of the body whether it can be identified by sight.

Clothing, personal belongings, jewellery and DNA can help in the identification process.

The body was found on an unremarkable stretch of the river, just past a slight bend a mile or so outside the village.

It was close to where a tree had fallen on its side half submerged in the water.

Police had earlier erected a tent and cordoned off the lane while police divers were called in, but the road was reopened around three hours later once the body was recovered.

The area attracted press interest and members of the public, including one woman who told reporters she was a clairvoyant and had “picked up” an area of the river on Saturday night.


In a message to Sky News, Mr Ansell said: “No words right now, just agony. We’re all together, we have to be strong.”

The investigation into Ms Bulley’s disappearance has attracted widespread speculation as well as criticism of the police response.

The force came under fire after making Ms Bulley’s struggles with alcohol and peri-menopause public three weeks after she vanished.

In a press conference on Wednesday, they revealed the mother-of-two was classed as a “high-risk” missing person immediately after Mr Ansell reported her disappearance, “based on a number of specific vulnerabilities”.

They later added in a statement that Ms Bulley, from Inskip in Lancashire, had stopped taking her HRT medication.

Sir Peter Fahy, former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, said he was unsure if any of the criticism levelled against the force was valid.

He said: “It seems to me that they did very [diligent] enquiries around CCTV. They had great support from local people and from that were able to trace all the local witnesses that had seen Nicola and fellow dog walkers. They also did extensive mobile phone tracing.

“That actually meant they were able to narrow down the circumstances in which it appeared Nicola had disappeared. But then, the trouble with that is they then didn’t have a lot more information to give to the press in terms of further leads or further enquiries, perhaps vehicles or people they needed to trace because they had been able to narrow things down in this particular way.

“So, I think, a lot of the criticism has not been justified and it’s really not in the public interest when officers are trying to investigate a case like this that every detail is pored over. We’ve had all the influence of social media and people coming into the area, in the end the police had to get a dispersal order to remove some of those people.

“So I think the police have been under huge pressure, but from everything I’ve seen, they tried to carry out those enquiries in a methodical way with a quite extraordinary level of press and public interest, which to some degree is understandable, but on the other hand will be enormously frustrating to many other families who’ve lost loved ones, saying why did we not get this level of coverage and interest.”

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Suella Braverman described developments in the case as “heart-breaking and distressing” after previously expressing concern over the handling of the case.

She tweeted: “These are heart-breaking and distressing developments. My thoughts remain with Nicola’s family at this extremely difficult time.”

Her comment came after Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt described the disclosure of private information about the missing mother-of-two as “shocking”.

Ms Mordaunt described the ordeal as “horrific” for the family, telling the BBC: “It’s quite shocking. And I think both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary are right to raise concerns about this.”

She added: “And I think it really does grate with a lot of women and we have to put up with all kinds of sexist behaviour in all kinds of settings. And I think to have it play out in this kind of environment is why people are so upset.”

Asked whether police displayed sexism in their dealing with the case, Ms Mordaunt said: “I think that they clearly were motivated to try and explain why this case is a complex one. But I think there are serious questions to be asked about why they wanted to reveal particular information.”

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