Nicola Bulley dive expert says search would’ve changed if told of ‘alcohol issues’

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Peter Faulding said he was not informed about the missing mum’s “significant issues with alcohol”

A forensic search and diving expert has said his strategy would have changed in the hunt for Nicola Bulley if police had made him aware she was classed as “high risk”.

Peter Faulding, head of Specialist Group International (SGI), says he was not informed about the missing mum’s “significant issues with alcohol” and he would have changed his approach if he had known.

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Lancashire Police confirmed on Wednesday (15 February) that Ms Bulley had suffered with alcohol issues in the past which had resurfaced over recent months.

It came after senior officers said the 45-year-old was “vulnerable” and classed as a “high risk” missing person immediately after her partner Paul Ansell reported her disappearance.

A police search involving specialist officers was launched within an hour of Mr Ansell speaking to officers, with officers saying the mum-of-two had “vulnerabilities” based on the information he had given them.

Nicola Bulley was classed as a ‘high risk’ missing person by Lancashire Police (Photo: PA)Nicola Bulley was classed as a ‘high risk’ missing person by Lancashire Police (Photo: PA)
Nicola Bulley was classed as a ‘high risk’ missing person by Lancashire Police (Photo: PA) | PA

A statement issued on the Lancashire Police website on Wednesday evening said: “We have described how Nicola had some vulnerabilities at the time she went missing and we just wanted to expand on that a little.

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“Sadly, it is clear from speaking to Paul 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.”

“As a result of those issues, a response car staffed by both police and health professionals attended a report of concern for welfare at Nicola’s home address on January 10th. No one has been arrested in relation to this incident, but it is being investigated.

“It is an unusual step for us to take to go into this level of detail about someone’s private life, but we felt it was important to clarify what we meant when we talked about vulnerabilities to avoid any further speculation or misinterpretation.”

In response to the update from Lancashire Police, Mr Faulding, who was brought in to help find the missing mum, said he and his team were not passed this “crucial” information, which he says would “have changed search strategy”.

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In a tweet, he wrote: “I can confirm that my usually trusted team and I were not passed this crucial information during our search, which would have changed search strategy.”

Peter Faulding says he would have changed his approach if he had known Nicola was classed as ‘high risk’ (Photo: PA)Peter Faulding says he would have changed his approach if he had known Nicola was classed as ‘high risk’ (Photo: PA)
Peter Faulding says he would have changed his approach if he had known Nicola was classed as ‘high risk’ (Photo: PA) | PA

On Thursday morning, he told GB News: “I work on these cases all the time with the police and if the first thing they say is the lady or man is “high risk” we change our search strategy. I was told that Nicola, they believe, had fallen in the river at that particular place and that’s why we conducted the search the way we did.”

He added: “At the bottom of the bank, if Nicola has slipped in it was only two feet deep on the day onto rocks, so she would not have drowned. So that’s what they’ve been saying all along. This is a mystery to me, this particular job.”

Mr Faulding added that knowing Ms Bulley was classed as a “high risk” missing person ahead of the search would have seen his team “looking for other evidence”, such as “whisky bottles”.

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He suggested that Nicola may have wandered down the footpath, where there’s no CCTV, and gone onto the road, and could have gone into the river at a different point, potentially drifting downstream and going over the Wyre.

Mr Faulding went on to say he feels for the family and police officers working behind the scenes who have been “let down” by the lack of communication. He said: “I am disappointed that the police search adviser did not give me that information”, before adding “we would not have told that to the press”.

Peter Faulding (right) and his team search the river (Photo: PA)Peter Faulding (right) and his team search the river (Photo: PA)
Peter Faulding (right) and his team search the river (Photo: PA) | PA

Police searching for Ms Bulley have since come under fire for disclosing her issues with alcohol, with the move branded “deeply troubling” by MPs and campaign groups.

Silkie Carlo, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, tweeted: “Lancashire Police broadcasting missing Nicola Bulley’s health issues and hormone status to the world is a serious invasion of her privacy with no obvious benefits for the investigation. A shocking decision when the police’s treatment of women is rightly in the spotlight.

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“It’s not at all clear how the police are justifying this disclosure, which seems to be aimed at shoring up public support for Lancashire Police’s own forgone conclusions. The ramifications of this invasion of medical privacy could be really serious, including for Nicola’s safety.”

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper stopped short of criticising the police decision but admitted she had concerns about the release of such details, calling it “very unusual”.

She said: “I do have a lot of questions and concerns about that. I would want to speak directly to Lancashire Police about their reasons for doing so before commenting further, because I know there can be complicated reasons for police decisions.”

Police confirmed that their “main working hypothesis” still remains that Ms Bulley went into the river during a “10-minute window” between 9.10am and 9.20am on 27 January, and they believe no one else is involved.

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Assistant Chief Constable Peter Lawson said: “There is no evidence to indicate a criminal aspect or third-party involvement in Nicola’s disappearance.”

Ms Bulley has still not been found and detectives have now extended the search for her to the sea.

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