Saturday, 25 Mar 2023

Nicola Bulley's partner holds onto hope she'll be found alive

‘Our agony continues… but the hope of finding you is stronger than ever’: Nicola Bulley’s partner Paul tells of his heartbreak as search for the missing mother-of-two continues – with police appealing for new ‘key’ witness in yellow coat

  • Nicola Bulley’s partner ‘will not entertain’ any outcome other than finding her
  • He has also cast doubt over police’s ‘lead theory’ that Ms Bulley fell into river 

Nicola Bulley’s distraught partner has not given up hope of finding her alive and ‘will not entertain any other outcome’ as the search approaches its 10th day.

Father-of-two Paul Ansell, 44, said Ms Bulley’s disappearance feels ‘no more real now’ than it did when he first learned she was missing.

‘The agony continues… the hope is stronger than ever of finding you. We need her home… we need a happy ending to this nightmare,’ he said.

It comes as underwater forensics expert Peter Faulding branded the investigation ‘a mess’ and warned police could have missed ‘critical’ evidence in the first few hours of the search following the latest appeal for a ‘key witness’ in a yellow jacket to come forward.

Mr Ansell also doubled down on comments from Ms Bulley’s friends and other relatives warning police have very little basis for their theory that she fell in the river.

He said there was ‘no evidence yet to suggest any scenario over another and all options must be kept wide open’.

Nicola Bulley’s distraught partner has not given up hope of finding her alive and ‘will not entertain any other outcome’ as the search enters its 10th day

Father-of-two Paul Ansell, 44, said Ms Bulley’s disappearance feels ‘no more real now’ than it did when he first learned she was missing 

Police have issued an urgent appeal for a mother wearing a yellow rain jacket in their ongoing search for missing mother Nicola Bulley

Underwater forensics expert Peter Faulding told the Mail police may have missed ‘critical’ evidence because they failed to seal off the area where Ms Bulley vanished.

Mr Faulding, who has worked on many high-profile criminal cases, said officers were too quick to decide there were no suspicious circumstances and described their investigation as ‘a mess’.

‘It should have been sealed off immediately as a potential crime scene. That area is critical. Critical forensics could have been found in that location,’ he said.

‘Now we’ve had loads of people trampling around, covering up any tracks.

‘I don’t know how the police can say there’s no evidence of third-party involvement in this disappearance when they haven’t actually checked. I think this is a mess, really.’

Mr Faulding also offered his expertise to the investigation, saying he would be ready to offer assistance from Monday if police require him.

‘The sonar used by the police is pretty low-tech. It’s very unlikely they would be able to find a body with it,’ he said. ‘The divers the police are using are very experienced and professional, but searching that way is a very slow process.

‘They are having to swim along in a line, feeling for a body among the weeds, inching down the river bit by bit. They can probably only cover about 100 metres of the river on a good day. Even then, there’s an element of luck – divers can miss things in murky water.

‘With our kit, I can search about 10 miles of river in a day. If the police say the word, I will fly it up there by helicopter on Monday and get to work.’

Mr Ansell also doubled down on comments from Ms Bulley’s friends and other relatives warning police have very little basis for their theory that she fell in the river 

Police said they’re urging the mystery woman in yellow to come forward as the search for Ms Bulley continues 

Divers will continue looking for the missing mother throughout Saturday 

Police today released a renewed appeal for witnesses, sharing a grainy image of a woman wearing a yellow rain jacket and pushing a pram with a young child. 

Officers from Lancashire Constabulary described the woman in the photo as a ‘key witness’ and believe she was in the same area as Ms Bulley on Friday January 27, the morning she vanished from the River Wyre while walking her dog. 

Amid reports of a widening difference of opinion between Ms Bulley’s family and detectives, Mr Ansell echoed police’s pleas for potential witnesses who might have dashcam footage to come forward. 

Police are particularly interested in speaking with people who may have been travelling near Blackpool Lane and Garstang Lane between 9am and 10am on the day Ms Bulley vanished.  

Members of the public joined the widespread search for the 45-year-old over the weekend

Ms Bulley’s loved ones question police theory that she entered river: READ MORE

‘Whilst you may not think that you hold any relevant information, it is really important that we gather as much footage as possible from the area that morning so we can review every piece meticulously to establish whether Nicola can be seen,’ police said.

‘We know from the footage we are currently reviewing, that this is a busy road, particularly at that time in the morning.

‘There will be many people who were in that area at the time who may not think they can help, however we would urge you not to make that decision yourself and to come forward so we can have as much material as possible to assist the investigation.’

The appeal for footage from Garstang Lane comes after police said that while their lead theory is that the missing mother fell into the river, they’re still exploring other possibilities.

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.’ 

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

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

The most recent appeal for the woman in yellow offers renewed hope for family and friends.

‘Who is the lady in yellow?’: Detectives searching for missing Nicola Bulley are appealing for woman pushing a pram to come forward: READ MORE 

They know all it takes it one sliver of information to break open a case like this. 

Police said: ‘A woman was seen walking on Garstang Road/Blackpool Road, St Michael’s on the morning of Friday 27th January pushing a pram.’

The woman in question was walking from the direction of Allotment Lane towards the Grapes public house at approximately 8.22am, police say. She was seen again walking on Allotment Lane towards Garstang Road at 8.41am. 

This is the latest of several public appeals police have made since Ms Bulley vanished. Earlier, a woman in a bright red coat was identified following a similar callout. She told police she had nothing of value to report from the morning in question. 

Police expressed concerns the missing mother-of-two may have fallen in the icy cold water on River Wyre while trying to retrieve her dog Willow’s tennis ball.  Specialist search crews have not recovered the ball – or anything of note – at this stage.

If Ms Bulley did fall into the water, she may have been weighed down by the heavy clothing she was wearing on the day she vanished.

But her sister Louise Cunningham urged the public to keep an open mind in a social media post last night. 

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

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

Paul Ansell issued a public appeal through the media in the week, vowing not to give up hope

‘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.’

Anyone with information or footage is asked to call 101, quoting log 565 of January 30. For immediate sightings, please call 999.

Police are said to be looking into how to access data from Ms Bulley’s Fitbit in a bid to track her movements, her friend revealed today.

Friend Emma White said on Saturday that the Fitbit had not been synced to a device since Tuesday. 

She told the Sun: ‘The police are trying other ways to try to get information from it.’

Police are said to be trying to trace data from Nicola Bulley’s Fitbit (pictured on her right arm)

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

‘Lady in red’ who police hoped might hold crucial information tells officers she didn’t see the missing mother-of-two: READ MORE

There are ways to access a Fitbit’s data using the app on the owner’s phone or third-party tracking apps, which can allow any smartphone to sync with the device if it is within a 100ft radius.

But this only lasts for as long as the Fitbit still has battery left. 

Search teams from Lancashire Constabulary are continuing to trawl the River Wyre, along with specialist crews from around the country.

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

Their father is trying to put on a brave face for the sake of the children, and is being supported by Ms Bulley’s distraught parents and sister.

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 said: ‘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.’

Anyone with information or footage is asked to call 101, quoting log 565 of January 30. For immediate sightings, call 999

Police officers search near the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, today

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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