Saturday, 25 Mar 2023

Nicola Bulley police ‘turned down search help’ at height of hunt

Nicola Bulley: Police confirm body in river is missing mum

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Police chiefs involved in the search for Nicola Bulley turned down help from experts at the height of their 23-day hunt, it has emerged. The body of Ms Bulley, 45, from Inskip, was found on Sunday after she went missing while walking her dog near the River Wyre, Lancashire, on January 27.

Lowland Rescue, which has 36 teams covering a large swathe of the UK, offered to help as the search for Ms Bulley entered its third week.

Lancashire Constabulary’s Assistant Chief Constable Peter Lawson emailed in reply that it was “heartwarming” to receive offers from “the policing family” and UK Search and Rescue organisations, but there were “no plans for further land searches”.

Asst Ch Cons Lawson added in his email that the Constabulary had “cleared the relevant areas with appropriate resources”, The Sun reports.

A search and rescue source told the same publication: “It’s inexcusable. To say they have covered off areas when a missing person is still missing is just bizarre.

“You go back and recast those areas. It’s completely strange to decline free resources.”

Lancashire Constabulary said throughout the investigation it has proactively sought and received specialist assistance from a variety of agencies and forces.

This includes 24 Bowland Pennine Mountain Rescue volunteers; Search Group International; Lancashire Fire Service; Cumbria Police; Lancaster Search and Rescue volunteers; advice from the Environment Agency; HM Coastguard; West Cumbria Search and Rescue; Fleetwood Inshore Lifeboat Maritime Volunteer Service and Bay Search and Rescue.

The criticism comes amid mounting pressure on Lancashire due to the length of time it took for Ms Bulley’s body to be found.

It is understood a man and a woman walking their dog discovered the body and called police.

The body was found on an unremarkable stretch of the river, just past a slight bend a mile or so outside the village of St Michael’s on Wyre close to where a tree had fallen in the water.

Self-proclaimed psychic Jason Rothwell, 33, claimed he was one of the two people who discovered the body despite searches by Lancashire Constabulary, mountain rescue and the local fire service.

Clamour has grown since the discovery for an independent enquiry into the handling of the case and Lancashire’s approach to the media.


The Constabulary has already faced criticism for releasing details about Ms Bulley’s personal life, including struggles with the perimenopause.

Former Home Secretary Priti Patel told The Sun there are multiple, unanswered questions about the handling and investigation into Ms Bulley’s case.

She said: “As I have sadly seen in my time as Home Secretary, families have been let down badly by not treating these instances with the urgency required.”

Downing Street said on Tuesday (February 21) it expected Lancashire to be “transparent” about its own internal investigation into the handling of the case.

Asked whether Rishi Sunak believed an independent, external review would be necessary, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Our position is to allow the existing process to report back.

“We would expect them to detail their findings and then obviously we will consider the next steps as appropriate.”

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Pressed on whether the internal process would just see the force “marking their own homework”, the spokesman said: “These are long-established processes and we would expect the force to be transparent in their findings.

“That does not preclude further work at the end of that.”

Former police officer Graham Wettone said search teams did the best job they could in challenging conditions and will be “gutted” Ms Bulley was not found sooner.

He said he has spoken to underwater search experts who were supportive of what police and fire and rescue teams in Lancashire did.

The veteran former Met Police officer said: “That was a really difficult search. Really challenging conditions, you wouldn’t have been able to see much when you were underwater with the air tanks on, you’d have been almost doing it by touch, by feel.

“So it’s a really challenging searching environment. And it’s tidal, so it goes backwards and forwards. There’ll be channels and crevices and gaps in the riverbank as you go along where things can get lodged.”

Mr Wettone added: “They’ll be gutted they didn’t find her in a week or so. If they think they missed her they’ll be even more devastated.

“Because they’re working to meet the needs of the family, not the press, not the public, not the TikTok detectives, they’re trying to get some resolution for a family.”

But ex-cop Mick Neville, writing in The Sun, claimed Lancashire Constabulary had mishandled the media during the search.

A statement from Ms Bulley’s family issued by the force on Monday read: “It saddens us to think that one day we will have to explain to them (the children) that the Press and members of the public accused their dad of wrongdoing.”

Mr Neville wrote: “It is baffling why the police chose to put out this statement when no one in the mainstream Press accused Nicola’s partner Paul Ansell of playing any part in her disappearance.

“To suggest he had done so would both be defamatory and risk prejudicing a future court case if there was any criminal intent, which there was not.”

He added Lancashire had previously released a statement saying officers had been called ot the family home before Ms Bulley’s disappearance over a “concern for welfare”.

Mr Nevilla wrote: “That gave the totally false impression that Paul might have been involved, which officers quickly had to correct.”

He also took aim at “social media sleuths” who speculated wildly during the search and showed no understanding of legal restrictions or codes of conduct.

The former police officer alleged: “So the only conclusion I can draw from this is that by allowing that statement to be released, the police are trying to deflect criticism away from themselves and towards the media.”

Meanwhile, media watchdog Ofcom said on Tuesday it was “extremely concerned” by comments from the family of Ms Bulley and has written to ITV and Sky “to ask them to explain their actions”.

On Monday her family questioned the role of the media during the investigation. They said: “We tried last night to take in what we had been told in the day, only to have Sky News and ITV making contact with us directly when we expressly asked for privacy.

“They again have taken it upon themselves to run stories about us to sell papers and increase their own profits. It is shameful they have acted in this way. Leave us alone now.

“Do the press and other media channels and so called professionals not know when to stop? These are our lives and our children’s lives.”

A spokesperson for Ofcom said on Tuesday: “We are extremely concerned to hear the comments made by the family of Nicola Bulley about two broadcast licensees.

“We have written to ITV and Sky to ask them to explain their actions. We will then assess whether any further action is required.”

Ms Bulley’s family said in their statement: “It saddens us to think that one day we will have to explain to them that the press and members of the public accused their dad of wrongdoing, misquoted and vilified friends and family.

“This is absolutely appalling, they have to be held accountable, this cannot happen to another family.”

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