Nicola Bulley: Lancashire Constabulary refers itself to watchdog over police visit to missing mum’s house
Police visited Nicola Bulley’s house just weeks before she disappeared over alleged issues with alcohol.
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The force referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) over a visit officers made to the mum-of-two’s house, just days before she disappeared. Lancashire Constabulary previously said in a statement that “police and health professionals attended a report of concern for welfare at Nicola’s home address on 10 January”.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said they were assessing the information to determine whether an investigation would be necessary over the contact officers had with the missing mother-of-two. Nicola was last seen on 27 January walking her dog next to the River Wyre, in St Michael’s, Lancashire, after dropping her two daughters off at school. She has not been seen since.
Police have said they believe she fell into the water and there was no criminal involvement, adding that not a single piece of evidence suggested a third party was involved. The referral comes after Nicola’s family called for an end to the “speculation and rumours” about her private life.
Confirming a referral had been made to the watchdog, a spokesman for the IOPC said: “This afternoon we received a referral from Lancashire Constabulary regarding contact the force had with Nicola Bulley on January 10, prior to her disappearance. We are assessing the available information to determine whether an investigation into that contact may be required and if so, who should conduct that investigation.”
Police were criticised for disclosing that she suffered “some significant issues with alcohol” in the past, which had resurfaced over recent months. The force on Wednesday: “Sadly, it is clear from speaking to Paul [Ansell] and the family that Nicola had in the past suffered with some significant issues with alcohol which were brought on by her ongoing struggles with the menopause and that these struggles had resurfaced over recent months. This caused some real challenges for Paul and the family.”
Many were outraged by the disclosure of this personal information, with Labour MP Stella Creasy slamming the police’s statement as “deeply troubling”. Other critics, such as Tory MP Alicia Kearns, said the information served only to “assist those wishing to victim blame or diminish”, while the government’s mental health ambassador, Dr Alex George, said the words felt like the “stigmatisation of a speculative alcohol misuse disorder”.
Zoë Billingham, the chairwoman of an NHS mental health trust, asked: “Why on earth was this information even vaguely relevant to an investigation that’s 20 days on? If there are issues relating to Nicola that needed to be put in the public domain, why wasn’t this done earlier? And why was such personal information, such potentially sensitive information, disclosed?”
A former detective also told Sky News that he was “confused” by Lancashire Police’s strategy, adding that he had “never seen such level of detail” released in a missing person case before. Martyn Underhill explained: “You can understand why some people are saying it’s victim blaming to protect their own reputation. I can’t see how it progresses the case any further forward now we’re three weeks in, to be frank.”
Today (16 February), Nicola’s family addressed the newly-released health information - stating that while they were aware “Nikki would not have wanted” the personal details to be released, the police had “kept them informed” about the disclosure. They continued: “There are people out there speculating and threatening to sell stories about her. This is appalling and needs to stop. The police know the truth about Nikki and now the public need to focus on finding her.”
Speaking specifically on Nicola’s struggles with menopause, her family said: “Due to the perimenopause, Nikki suffered with significant side effects such as brain fog, restless sleep. [She] was taking HRT to help, but this was giving her intense headaches which caused Nikki to stop taking the HRT, thinking that may have helped her but only ended up causing this crisis. The public focus has to be on finding her and not making up wild theories about her personal life.”