Amateur detectives are causing distress and confusion as they descend on the small village where Nicola Bulley went missing, neighbours claimed last night.
As the search for the mother-of-two in the Lancashire village of St Michael’s on Wyre enters its eleventh day, sleuths are said to be hindering progress with ‘crackpot’ theories.
The community is trying to ‘rise above it’, a friend claimed, but online speculation is making things harder for the 45-year-old’s family.
It comes as police will start to work with independent search experts, who are contributing more high-spec equipment, this morning.
Forensics expert Peter Faulding, who is flying in to join the search, said he hoped to be able to confirm whether or not Ms Bulley was in the river by the end of Monday.
World-renowned forensics expert Peter Faulding does not agree with police claims that Nicola Bulley, 45, (pictured) fell into the River Wyre
A police search team on the River Wyre over the weekend. They will be joined by independent experts this morning as the search enters its eleventh day
Neighbours have been helping to look along river banks for the mother-of-two but say ‘crackpot’ theorists have been hindering progress
Superintendent Sally Riley said ‘clairvoyants’ had phoned the police helpline claiming to know Ms Bulley’s whereabouts.
A neighbour of the missing mother, who was out every day helping the police with their search, said she had come across a man questioning locals.
The man is said to have been sprouting ‘crackpot’ theories and had apparently attended hundred of similar missing person cases nationwide.
The local, who asked not to be named, said: ‘It’s upsetting to hear this sort of stuff from someone who has just turned up for their own interest.’
Meanwhile, reports claim a pair of armchair detectives travelled to the village from Leeds last week with a handheld camera to take ‘documentary evidence’.
The community is trying to ‘rise above’ the influx of amateur sleuths, said Heather Gibbons, a friend of Ms Bulley.
The police called the online speculation and abuse ‘totally unacceptable’, as an internet forum discussing ‘true crime’ cases reached nearly 1,000 posts about the case.
It comes as CCTV pictures of Ms Bulley leaving home for the school run on the day she disappeared were published yesterday.
She is seen on security footage wearing a long dark coat, leggings and ankle boots with her hair tied in a ponytail
Still pictures showing Ms Bulley just hours before she vanished have been released by a friend in a bid to find her
The mother can be seen in a long jacket, leggings and walking boots with her hair tied in a pony tail before taking her two daughters on the 3.8-mile journey to school in the village on January 27.
Friends of the couple have also begged armchair detectives and keyboard warriors to stop speculating about the involvement of her partner Paul Ansell.
They say the CCTV images show why Mr Ansell has not been considered a suspect, as it is understood that he was at home at the time of Ms Bulley’s disappearance.
The moment Nicola Bulley’s young daughter spotted search teams looking for the missing mother was also captured on video at the weekend.
The six-second video shared by friends showed daughter Sophia, six, pointing towards a search team and asking: ‘Them helicopters, they’re looking for mummy.’
Over the weekend, her two girls performed at a gymnastics show – with an empty seat saved for Ms Bulley, who had booked a ticket days before she went missing – as friends and family try to keep their lives as normal as possible.
Emma White, a friend, told The Telegraph that the girls tended to do a lot of activities over the weekend, usually with their mother.
‘Over the weekend they had a gymnastics show and there was an empty seat, which was obviously hard as mummy should be watching them.’
Friends added that Ms Bulley’s daughters also attended a school disco on Friday as part of efforts among parents to ‘keep things as normal as possible’ for the children.
Jill Peck, who attended a vigil to light candles at St Michael’s Church on Sunday, told Sky News: ‘If something was in the diary, it’s been kept in the diary. They are aware that something is happening but we’re trying to keep it away from the school.
‘They just desperately want her home – and that’s all they are asking, all the time, is “where is she and is she coming home?”‘.
Other family members attended the Candlemas service, where more than 50 worshippers lit a candle for the mother.
She and her partner are active members of St Michael’s Church, often attending services and helping decorate for Christmas.
The Rev Andrew Wilkinson asked for prayers for Ms Bulley during the service and afterwards said: ‘As a family, they are so very positive, energetic and full of life.
‘They are lovely to be with. Nicola was always joining in and had lots of friends.’
Specialist search teams are now expected to start setting up extra high-tech equipment from 8am today.
Police have called in extra divers to assist in the search for the mother – after initially turning down specialist assistance despite the family’s pleas.
Mr Faulding, founder of private search and rescue organisation Specialist Group International, initially said Lancashire Police had refused his offer of divers and equipment.
But in a subsequent statement, he confirmed his team left Surrey on Sunday evening to join in the operation.
He said: ‘I have just had a long call with the Lancashire Police search adviser to discuss the search for Nicola. We will work closely with the police search teams who are working long hours to find Nicola.
‘The team are leaving shortly from our base in Dorking en route to Lancashire to start tomorrow [Monday] morning.’
Mr Faulding told Sky News on Sunday that he will be bringing ‘high-spec’ sonar equipment that has a ‘very high hit rate’ in search operations.
Peter Faulding, a world-renowned forensics expert who is a diver for the police and has worked on hundreds of cases across the South East, confirmed his specialist rescue and underwater team has been called in to help with the search
Mr Faulding believes that there are a number of anomalies in the search and hopes to be able to determine whether Ms Bulley is in the water on Monday
He said: ‘We’re assisting with our dive team. We carry out all the underwater operations in the South East for the police anyway. But we’re bringing a particularly high-spec piece of equipment, 1,800-kilohertz specialist side-scan sonar.
‘Each year we deal with a lot of drownings and we locate them extremely quickly. The difference with this sonar is that it’s very, very high-frequency.
‘It’s about £55,000 and it scans the river and I can see every stick and stone lying on the river bed. We’ve got a very high hit rate with this.
He added: ‘Our sonar is probably a bit more superior but I’ve got a lot of specialist search expertise and I’ve worked on hundreds of these cases and we always generally find people within the hour in lakes…’
Meanwhile, the diving expert also said he believes it is unlikely that the river bank is the correct answer regarding the disappearance.
Police officers search near the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, on Saturday
Mr Faulding told GBNews: ‘The amount of searching that’s gone on in this river, I would have thought she would have been found by now. Normally when a person drowns, if they are left a number of days they don’t move very far.
‘This is not a fast tidal river. So I would have expected her to be found by the police divers by now… It’s as clear as that.
‘And you know, none of this rings right to me. My belief is she’s not in not in the river at all.’
He added that not enough factors added up in his opinion, suggesting Ms Bulley’s phone could have been left on the bench as a ‘decoy’.
He continued: ‘I personally think this phone could be a decoy.
‘We dealt with a drowning a couple of years ago where a gentleman went into a river and Ripley, his dog, was screaming by the riverbank when we got there.
‘When we arrived it was howling, and literally pointing exactly where he was. He stayed with his owner.
‘The phone on the bench, I mean, you have to ask, normally someone would have a phone in their hand especially if they were walking around.’
The forensics worker said it ‘feels odd’ that no one spoke of the fact that Ms Bulley was not wearing clothes that would have absorbed water quickly, there were no marks at the scene and that not one person heard screams.
And he criticised the fact that the location has not remained cordoned off.
He said: ‘People have been walking past the bench. There’s no police tape up. This would normally be sealed off as a crime scene, so potentially crime scene investigators can go in and see if there are any microfibres, evidence, slip marks down the bank etcetera and I don’t believe that has actually happened here.’
The mother is seen in doorbell camera footage on the day of her disappearance wearing a long jacket with leggings and walking boots as she uses the boot of her car
Police investigating the disappearance of mother Nicola Bulley have not found any evidence that she slipped or fell into the river but will continue their search
Nicola Bulley, 45, was last seen a over a week ago walking next to the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre in Lancashire
Police search teams were pictured in boats on the River looking for the missing 45-year-old
The family friend thanked those who had shared their support along with the list of details surrounding Nicola’s disappearance
Tilly Ann, a friend of the missing mother, shared 11 key details about her disappearance.
Essential information from her Facebook post read that the only CCTV camera at a residential caravan park ‘that would have seen Nikki’ is not working.
She added that her friend and her partner Paul take the walk along the river regularly and would be well-recognised by the local community.
Ms Ann noted that Ms Bulley is ‘an incredibly strong swimmer’ and her dog Willow who she was walking was completely dry when found.
She wrote that the dog would never have a harness on during the familiar walk and is removed at a gate at the top of the field. When the dog was found, it was very close to the bench along with the harness on the floor.
She added that her friend would often put her phone on loud-speaker when talking – her phone was discovered close to the river bank and she had previously been on a conference call before she vanished.
The family friend thanked those who had shared their support and contributed to the search for Nicola – saying it had ‘created such a comfort to Nikki’s family’.
Tilly Ann noted that Ms Bulley is ‘an incredibly strong swimmer’, and that her dog Willow who she was walking was completely dry when found
Following an urgent appeal for a mother wearing a yellow rain jacket in their ongoing search for missing mother Nicola Bulley, the force wrote that it was ‘pleased to say that the woman came forward very quickly’
Detailing the impact on Paul, she wrote that he is struggling to hold back his pain, but is focusing on his children and does not want to worry them ‘more than they already are’.
How dog behaviour can disclose hidden clues to mysteries
Dogs are believed to be able to find the last location of their owners through their sense of smell.
Experts advise those searching should go back to where the dog was last spotted because it will backtrack to its owner and their scent.
A dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 times more powerful than a human and can pick up locational scent.
If it’s home is far away and the dog can’t find its owner, it will get worried and try to return home to somewhere familiar.
In certain cases, some dogs will return home along or attempt to follow their missing owner, according to Colin Tennant, director of the Cambridge Institute of Dog Behaviour and Training, who wrote in The Sunday Times today.
Dogs cannot, however, process what is happening if a human falls into water. In this case, the dog might run along the bank looking for eye-contact or stop on the bank as the last place of detection.
On Saturday, police released an image of a potential witness who was spotted in the area at the time of Ms Bulley’s disappearance.
Later that evening, they released a statement that said the force are ‘pleased to say that the woman came forward very quickly’ and were treating her as a ‘key witness’ in the investigation.
Lancashire Police said: ‘We must stress that she was very much being treated as a witness and was one of many people in St Michael’s on Friday, January 27.
‘Our enquiries to find Nicola are extensive and will include speaking to as many members of the public as possible.’
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.
Photographs of police scouring the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre in Lancashire where the mother was last seen have been released as they continue to search.
The police insist it is their primary theory despite not having found any evidence that she slipped or fell into the river.
Following their first lead of the new witness, they are continuing the investigation as the search on the Wyre River enters its eleventh day.
A second line of inquiry relates to a Fitbit Ms Bulley was wearing on the morning she vanished. Police hope to use technology to help track her whereabouts via the smart watch.
Fitbits are also capable of monitoring a heart rate and could provide vital clues relating to her last known movements.
Another friend, Emma White, said on Saturday that the Fitbit had not been synced to a device since Tuesday.
Ms White, near to the spot where Ms Bulley was last seen, said: ‘The police are trying to use the data from her Fitbit to find her. The watch can receive data, but cannot connect to the internet.
‘However, we hope they can somehow locate it using Bluetooth signals from people’s phones. We are clinging to hope. Nicola falling into the river is just a hypothesis.’
She added the Fitbit has not ‘synced’ with its servers since the Tuesday before Ms Bulley’s disappearance.
Pictured: A police helicopter over St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, as police continue their search
Specialist crews will return to the river today to continue scouring the area for clues
Essential information from the post read that unfortunately the only CCTV camera at a residential caravan park ‘that would have seen Nikki’ is not working
Specialist crews returned to the river on the weekend to continue scouring for clues
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.
While maintaining it is still the ‘lead theory’ that Ms Bulley somehow came to be in the water, police have now revealed there is no evidence that backs this up – a sentiment which has been repeatedly echoed by the missing mother’s family.
Lancashire Police Superintendent Sally Riley told The Sunday Times there is ‘no evidence of a slip or fall’ in the area at the centre of the investigation.
‘I think if it had been a sloping bank, a commonsense view would be that you would expect to find scuff marks.
‘If it is sheer and you lose your footing, you might not have any marks left on the grass. All of that has been subjected to a detailed search.’
Superintendent Riley said on the balance of probabilities, it is ‘highly unlikely’ criminal activity took place in such a tiny window of time which is currently unaccounted for.
Police are still trying to piece together about ten minutes from the morning Ms Bulley disappeared.
Nicola Bulley’s partner Paul Ansell issued a public appeal through the media in the week, vowing not to give up hope
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
She said: ‘This is a low-crime area. It’s genuinely a safe, tight-knit area, people look out for each other.
‘A third-party [being] involved that we haven’t yet had sightings of, we haven’t caught on CCTV or dash-cam or all the other things I’ve mentioned, is just not likely.’
This does not mean they’ve entirely ruled out other scenarios.
Officers are still appealing for witnesses to come forward, particularly near a CCTV black spot near Garstang Lane.
And Ms Bulley’s distraught partner has not given up hope of finding her alive, stating he ‘will not entertain any other outcome’ as the search continues.
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.
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’.
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: ‘We would urge people to remember that we are investigating the disappearance of Nicola, and the priority is Nicola and her family. We want to find her and provide answers to her family’
Divers will continue looking for the missing mother throughout Saturday
Members of the public joined the widespread search for the 45-year-old over the weekend
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.
‘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.’
Substantial CCTV in the region has all but ruled out she left 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.’
The owners of a caravan park close to the riverbank where Ms Bulley is believed to have fallen into the water have already had their CCTV tapes seized by police.
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
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 on Saturday.
Nicola, 45, disappeared shortly after dropping her two daughters off at school on January 27
Police are said to be trying to trace data from Nicola Bulley’s Fitbit (pictured on her right arm)
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
‘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.’
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.’
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.
– February 4
Friends reveal police are hoping to utilise Ms Bulley’s Fitbit data to help track her.
A new appeal is issued for a mystery ‘woman in yellow’ to come forward. The woman was pictured walking in the same area as Ms Bulley, pushing a stroller with a young child.
Ms Bulley’s partner speaks out to also cast doubt over the police theory she had fallen in the river. Mr Ansell says he will never give up hope of finding her.
Police confirm there is ‘no evidence’ Ms Bulley fell in the river, despite maintaining it is their lead theory.
A close family friend, named Tilly Ann, shared 11 key facts about her friend’s disappearance to Facebook.
– February 6
Police are pictured scouring the riverbank as they continue to search for Ms Bulley.
They are joined by specialist search teams who hope to confirm whether she is in the river.
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