Nicola Bulley: police decision to reveal alcohol and menopause ‘issues’ criticised as ‘deeply troubling’
Nicola Bulley has been missing since 27 January and police explained why she was considered ‘high-risk’
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The police force searching for missing Nicola Bulley have been criticised after revealing the mother-of-two had struggles with alcohol while going through menopause.
Senior officers said on Wednesday (15 February) that she was “vulnerable” and classed by police as a “high-risk” missing person immediately after her partner Paul Ansell reported her disappearance. The mother-of-two was last seen on Friday, 27 January in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire.
She vanished after dropping off her daughters, aged six and nine, at school and the search for her has stretched into a third week. Nicola was last seen at 9.10am taking her usual route with her springer spaniel Willow, alongside the River Wyre.
Her phone, still connected to a work call for her job as a mortgage adviser, was found just over 20 minutes later on a bench overlooking the riverbank, with her dog running loose. Since she vanished, huge public and media interest has resulted in what police described as “false information, accusations and rumours” and an “unprecedented” search of both the River Wyre, downstream to Morecambe Bay and miles of neighbouring farmland.
But Lancashire Police have been criticised after revealing why Nicola was considered “high-risk”. Here’s all you need to know:
What did Lancashire Police say?
Since she vanished, huge public and media interest has resulted in what police described as “false information, accusations and rumours” and an “unprecedented” search of both the River Wyre, downstream to Morecambe Bay and miles of neighbouring farmland.
On Wednesday, Det Supt Rebecca Smith, the lead investigator, told reporters: “As soon as she was reported missing, following the information that was provided to the police by her partner Paul, and based on a number of specific vulnerabilities that we were made aware of, Nicola was graded as high-risk.”
A later statement on the force website said: “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 10. 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.”
How have people reacted?
Conservative MP Alicia Kearns, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Twitter: “I am deeply uncomfortable with the police releasing Nicola Bulley’s so-called ‘vulnerabilities’ on menopause and alcohol. I struggle to ascertain how this will assist police in their search & investigations. I do see how it would assist those wishing to victim-blame or diminish.”
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.
“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.”
Meanwhile, Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, said: “The decision to disclose this level of detail on a missing person’s private life, with no evidence that this is assisting in finding her, is deeply troubling. The police need to be much clearer as to why any of this helps find Nicola Bulley or support this investigation.”
Underwater search expert Peter Faulding, who was helping to find her, said his team was not passed the information from police, which he says would “have changed search strategy”. Former chief crown prosecutor for the North West, Nazir Afzal, said the statement “should not have been issued” as it gives “fuel to the victim blamers, armchair sleuths & conspiracy theorists”.