Was missing Nicola Bulley’s dog found? Was Willow in her harness with a ball, was she wet? Theories checked

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Nicola Bulley’s friend said social media speculation had caused “hurt and distress” to her family, and she wanted to set the record straight.

One of Nicola Bulley’s friends has shared 11 facts about the missing mum in a bid to set the record straight amid social media speculation.

As the search for the 45-year-old mortgage adviser entered its 10th day, police also warned against abuse online against people assisting the enquiry, saying “it is totally unacceptable”. Nicola disappeared in what police say was a 10-minute window, on 27 January, next to the River Wyre near St Michael’s, a small village north west of Preston.

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Detectives have said that they believe the Nicola has fallen into the river, and there was no criminal involvement, although her family have pleaded for people to keep an open mind. All that was found, after she vanished into thin air, was her dog Willow, and her phone - which was still on a conference call.

As such, there has been a lot of focus on Nicola’s dog - which has led to her friend Tilly Ann posted 11 facts on Facebook to set the record straight. She said inappropriate comments on social media had caused “hurt and distress” to Nicola’s family and conflicting information in news reports had muddied the facts surrounding the case.

NationalWorld’s sister title, the Lancashire Evening Post, reported that in a bid to set the record straight, Tilly – with permission from Nicola’s family – has provided definitive answers to 11 questions which have been the focus of speculation on social media.

Nicola Bulley vanished on January 27 during a riverside dog walk at St Michael’s, Lancashire.Nicola Bulley vanished on January 27 during a riverside dog walk at St Michael’s, Lancashire.
Nicola Bulley vanished on January 27 during a riverside dog walk at St Michael’s, Lancashire. | Lancashire Constabulary / SWNS.C

Was Nicola trying to get her dog’s ball?

One of the theories that detectives have put forward is that Nicola fell into the river when trying rescue Willow’s tennis ball. However this has been fiercly disputed by her friends, who said herself and partner Paul Ansell wouldn’t take the ball on walks as it caused too many issues.

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Pal Emma White told Sky News: “Willow used to love a tennis ball very much but it used to disturb their walks so they haven’t had a tennis ball since way into last year. Obviously she loved the tennis ball so she’d always be by you, pestering you for the ball - but it wasn’t a nice walk when the dog’s pestering - so there was definitely no ball."

And in Tilly’s post on Facebook about the case, she said: “They very rarely take the ball out for walks with Willow and haven’t done for a while because she is protective over the ball.”

Ms Bulley, from Inskip, was last seen on a towpath by the River Wyre off Garstang Road (Credit: Lancashire Police)Ms Bulley, from Inskip, was last seen on a towpath by the River Wyre off Garstang Road (Credit: Lancashire Police)
Ms Bulley, from Inskip, was last seen on a towpath by the River Wyre off Garstang Road (Credit: Lancashire Police)

Was Nicola’s dog found in its harness and was it wet?

At 9.30am, 25 minutes after the last sighting of Nicola, her dog Willow was found by another dog walker. The dog was loose and its lead and harness was on the floor, which has prompted speculation about what happened.

However Nicola’s pal, Tilly, has said this was perfectly normal. On Facebook, she wrote: “The dog, Willow, never has her harness on for a chunk of that walk, it's removed at the gate of the top field and then put back on at the gate when they leave.”

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New images released by the family of Nicola Bulley as the police continue their search for the missing woman who was last seen on a riverside dog walk in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, on January 27.New images released by the family of Nicola Bulley as the police continue their search for the missing woman who was last seen on a riverside dog walk in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, on January 27.
New images released by the family of Nicola Bulley as the police continue their search for the missing woman who was last seen on a riverside dog walk in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, on January 27. | Lancashire Constabulary / SWNS.C

She added: “The dog was found very close to both the bench and the harness. The harness was found on the floor not on the bench. The dog was dry when found. The dog has since been back.”

Certain people have speculated that the fact Willow was dry meant Nicola wouldn’t have fallen in the water, however dog behaviour expert Ross McCarthy told the Daily Express it is not as simple as that. He said: “It all depends on the dog’s association with water, and their relationship with the owner and so on, as to whether they would jump in. Some would through play or investigation and others would just mooch about on the side and some would panic at the strange situation."

On detectives’ theory that Nicola fell into the river, Tilly added that “Nicola is an incredibly strong swimmer”.

Other pieces of speculation factchecked

Nicola’s friend Tilly also factchecked other pieces of speculation, which have erupted since the mum-of-two went missing. These were:

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  • Nicola and Paul both mostly work from home which is why he was at home that day and the house has CCTV.
  • They both do this walk regularly and Paul is very well known in the community and very well recognised.
  • Nicola would often put her phone on loudspeaker when talking.
  • She drove to the school to drop her two daughters off and then left her car there and walked to the river.
  • There's CCTV at the back of the caravan park. The only camera that isn't working is the one that would have seen everything.

What was Nicola wearing when she disappeared?

Police have now confirmed the clothes Nicola was wearing when she vanished, and asked the public to pay particular attention to this.

Supt Sally Riley said: “They are an ankle-length black quilted gilet jacket, a black Engelbert Strauss waist-length coat which was worn underneath the gilet, tight-fitting black jeans, long green walking socks tucked into her jeans, ankle-length green Next wellies, a necklace and a pale blue Fitbit.”

Nicola Bulley’s last known movements. Credit: Kim Mogg / NationalWorldNicola Bulley’s last known movements. Credit: Kim Mogg / NationalWorld
Nicola Bulley’s last known movements. Credit: Kim Mogg / NationalWorld | Kim Mogg / NationalWorld

Timeline of Nicola’s disappearance

Friday 27 January, 8:43am: Nicola, having dropped her two daughters, aged six and nine, off at their nearby school, walked her dog along a towpath by the River Wyre. The path was just off Garstang Road in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire.

8:50am (approximately): A local dog walker, who knows Nicola, saw her walking around the lower field. Nicola’s dog, a springer spaniel named Willow, briefly interacted with the witness’s dog. The witness then left the field via the river path.

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8:53am: Nicola, who works as a mortgage advisor, sent an email to her boss from her phone.

8:57am: Nicola sent a text message to a friend whose mortgage she had recently signed off, to arrange a playdate for their daughters. The local, who told The Mirror about the text message, claimed this was evidence that Nicola had no intention of voluntarily disappearing, remarking: “You wouldn’t have done that if you were going to get up and go missing”.

9:01am: Nicola logged into a Microsoft Teams call.

9:10am: A different witness, who also knows Nicola, saw the mum-of-two with her dog Willow, in the upper field. This is the last known sighting of Nicola.

9:20am: Police believe Nicola’s phone was left on a bench at this point - which means there is just a ten-minute window in which the police cannot account for her movements.

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9:30am: The Teams call which Nicola joined at 9:01am ended. However, Nicola’s phone stayed logged on.

9:35am (approximately): Nicola’s dog Willow was found loose by another dog walker, near a bench by the river. Nicola’s mobile phone was found on the bench - still connected to the conference call.

Later (time unclear): Paul Ansell, Nicola’s partner, received a phone call from the children’s school about someone who had found Willow and Nicola’s phone. He then called the police.

Anybody who has seen Nicola, or has information about where she might be, is asked to call 101, quoting log 565 of January 30. For immediate sightings call 999.