Man vanished in River Wyre where Nicola Bulley was last seen on same day 45 years ago

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Roger Jones, 16, disappeared on the same part of the River Wyre as Nicola Bulley in 1978 - and it took two months to find his body.

A man vanished along the same stretch of river where Nicola Bulley was last seen on 45 years to the day - and wasn’t found for two months.

The mum-of-two, 45, has been missing since 27 January and was last seen walking her dog in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, at around 9.10am that morning after dropping her two daughters off at school. Lancashire Police and underwater search experts have been scouring the river since she disappeared, but after 13 days she still has not been found.

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A family from Preston, in Lancashire, know the pain the missing mum’s family and friends have been enduring over the past two weeks, as their son vanished in the River Wyre exactly 45 years to the very day as Ms Bulley.

Roger Jones, 16, was swept away in a fast-flowing brook which fed into the Wyre just yards upstream from where Ms Bulley’s mobile phone was found on 27 January 1978. The student from Fulwood catapulted into the water in a motorcycle crash and was not discovered until two months later, when his body washed up on a sandbank at low tide near to Shard Bridge, seven miles from St Michael’s.

Roger Jones, 16, vanished along the same stretch of river where Nicola Bulley was last seen (Photo: LEP / PA)Roger Jones, 16, vanished along the same stretch of river where Nicola Bulley was last seen (Photo: LEP / PA)
Roger Jones, 16, vanished along the same stretch of river where Nicola Bulley was last seen (Photo: LEP / PA) | LEP / PA

As the desperate search to find Ms Bulley continues, Roger’s family have shared the harrowing memories of losing their youngest of three sons more than 40 years ago. Roger’s brother Don Jones, who now lives in Caton, near Lancaster, told the Lancashire Evening Post: “We feel so much for Nicola’s family and friends - we know just what they must be going through.

"By some bizarre coincidence it was January 27 when Roger went missing - the same day as Nicola. And he would have been washed past the spot where her phone was found. There was no social media back then, so we didn’t have to put up with some of the nonsense that Nicola’s family are having to deal with.

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“At the moment the world and his wife are having their say on it - trotting out all sorts of conspiracy theories - and that must be a nightmare for them to deal with. That sort of thing is really unhelpful. We didn’t get any of that, although we had clairvoyants and spiritualists getting in touch, which proved very upsetting, especially for our mum."

‘It was awful’

Roger had been returning home one night as the pillion passenger on a friend’s motorbike when they crashed into a car on a narrow bridge in Woodplumpton, near Preston. The bike rider was badly injured and unconscious when emergency services arrived and was unable to tell them he had a passenger.

It was 3am before police were alerted that someone was missing and officers returned to the bridge that was over a fast-flowing stream in flood. Here they found one of Roger’s gloves on the banking, but there was no trace of the teenager.

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Roger Jones was 16 when he vanished in the same stretch of the River Wyre in 1978 (Photo: LEP)Roger Jones was 16 when he vanished in the same stretch of the River Wyre in 1978 (Photo: LEP)
Roger Jones was 16 when he vanished in the same stretch of the River Wyre in 1978 (Photo: LEP) | LEP

A huge search of the countryside downstream was launched involving dog handlers, mounted police and divers to scour the river. Don, his brother Dave, and other members of the Jones family went out day after day looking for Roger, but eventually the search had to be scaled back.

Don, a former LEP and Granada TV journalist, said: "It was awful. And what has happened at St Michael’s has brought it all back for our family. There are so many similarities like the location, the date, the support from the public. Yet there are so many differences too.

"By the time he was found we had already come to the conclusion that Roger was in the river and it was just a case of waiting for what seemed inevitable. As a family we kept looking and hoping, although the general searches were eventually called off. Everyone was exhausted.

"It was Easter time when we heard a body had been found and my brother and me were asked to go to Garstang police station to identify Roger’s belongings.

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"I’ve seen the TV pictures of the river near where Nicola went missing and it doesn’t look that deep or fast-flowing. But I’ve also looked on a website which charts river levels and there had been a spike on January 26, the day before she vanished.

"I think the river conditions were pretty similar when Roger went missing and he was obviously swept over the weir and into the tidal part of the river. He was found near Shard Bridge which is a fair distance away from St Michael’s. It is so desperately sad for Nicola’s family. It must be a total nightmare for them, not knowing what has happened. Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this awful time."

Don Jones believes Nicola, like his brother, could have been swept away after falling in the river (Photo: LEP)Don Jones believes Nicola, like his brother, could have been swept away after falling in the river (Photo: LEP)
Don Jones believes Nicola, like his brother, could have been swept away after falling in the river (Photo: LEP) | LEP

Nicola disappearance a ‘mystery’

An underwater search expert has described Ms Bulley’s disappearance as “complete mystery” after his team could not find her in the river. Peter Faulding, who was called in by the family to help find the mum-of-two, met her partner Paul Ansell on Wednesday (8 February), as day 12 of the search continued and told him she had still not been found.

The mortgage adviser, 45, vanished after dropping her two daughters – aged six and nine – at school, then taking her springer spaniel Willow for a walk along the river. Her phone was left on the bench near the river, still connected to a work call, with the dog lead and harness found close by.

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Mr Faulding and his team, from rescue operation Specialist Group International, have been searching the area around the bench, the “entry point” where it is believed by police Ms Bulley fell into the water. But he said their three-day involvement ended on Wednesday after a “thorough and extensive search” found “no sign of Nicola”.

Asked how Ms Bulley’s family are coping, he said: “It was quite emotional, I mean, brings a tear to my eye to be honest with you, sitting with Paul for a couple of hours, hearing about Nicola and particularly the children, their ‘Where’s mummy?’.

“That’s not nice and they’re clearly in distress and they’ve got no answers and nobody can give them any answers. It’s difficult, we’re all banging our heads together really.”

Nicola Bulley has been missing since 27 January and was last seen walking her dog in St Michael’s on Wyre (Photo: PA)Nicola Bulley has been missing since 27 January and was last seen walking her dog in St Michael’s on Wyre (Photo: PA)
Nicola Bulley has been missing since 27 January and was last seen walking her dog in St Michael’s on Wyre (Photo: PA) | PA

Search teams from Lancashire Police and the Coastguard, including divers, are now focusing on the 10 miles or so of river downstream of the bench, where the River Wyre empties into the sea at Morecambe Bay.

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Superintendent Sally Riley, of Lancashire Police, described the search as “unprecedented”, with 40 detectives following 500 lines of inquiry, with thousands of pieces of information coming in from the public.

Officers are currently trying to trace dashcam footage from 700 drivers who went through the village on the morning Ms Bulley disappeared.

Supt Riley also ruled out criminal or third-party involvement and on Tuesday reiterated the police’s belief that Ms Bulley had fallen into the river, with her body still unrecovered and police treating the incident as a missing person inquiry.

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