Lancashire Police cleared of misconduct over Nicola Bulley personal information disclosure
Lancashire Police will not face any enforcement action over the handling of the Nicola Bulley case
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The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has announced it will not be taking any enforcement action against the force over its release of personal information about the missing mum.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) also cleared the Lancashire force of any wrongdoing following an investigation into an officer’s conduct with Ms Bulley before she disappeared. Although the IOPC said it had identified two “areas of learning”.
It comes after the force faced heavy criticism for releasing elements of Ms Bulley’s private life to the public during the three-week long search for her after she disappeared from St Michael’s on Wyre in January. The body of the 45-year-old mum-of-two was found in the River Wyre 23 days after she was reported missing on 27 January.
MPs and campaign groups voiced their disapproval after police highlighted Ms Bulley’s struggles with alcohol and perimenopause during the search.
The force said the ICO had now concluded its investigation and informed police it would not be taking any enforcement action over the disclosures.
Announcing their conclusions on Tuesday (9 May), ICO’s deputy commissioner of regulatory policy Emily Keaney said: “This was an important piece of work around a high-profile case.
“We wanted to reassure the public that there are rules in place to protect how personal information is used and shared, and we wanted to be clear that while police can disclose information to protect the public and investigate crime, they would need to be able to demonstrate such disclosure was necessary and proportionate.”
Following the IOPC’s decision not to take action against an officer who had contact with Ms Bulley before her disappearance, Lancashire Police said it attended her address “in support of an ambulance deployment”.
Assistance Chief Constable Sam Mackenzie said: “The IOPC investigators focused on the actions of one officer and have now completed their investigation and found no misconduct or wrongdoing.
“Whilst we do have some procedural learning it is important to note that our attendance was in support of an ambulance deployment and that the officer dealt with Nicola with compassion and empathy, putting her care at the forefront of his decision-making on that day.”
It comes as Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Andrew Snowden said the independent review being conducted by the College of Policing into the force’s handling of the case is under way, with findings due to be published in autumn this year.
The review will consider the operational response to the high-risk missing person investigation, the communication and engagement with the press and media, public and family, and decision making surrounding the disclosure of sensitive personal information.
The findings will provide insight into the effectiveness of the force’s response over the period Ms Bulley was missing, and will examine whether the decision-making was reasonable and proportionate.
Mr Snowden said: “First and foremost my thoughts remain with Nicola’s family and friends who are, understandably, continuing to come to terms with their loss under an ongoing media spotlight.
“Whilst the police investigation has concluded, and the inquest will take place in due course, it is only right that we should examine Lancashire Police’s handling of this tragic case, which has been a cause for public concern, through an externally conducted independent review.
“This review will follow the facts and seek input from relevant operational and subject matter experts in reaching its findings. It will also seek to identify good and effective practice, and provide recommendations for wider learning to police forces nationally.
“In my role as Commissioner, as the public’s voice in policing in Lancashire, I need to put in place the appropriate scrutiny to seek the right assurances and to ensure I am effectively holding the Constabulary to account for delivering policing that is efficient and effective for the communities we serve.
“It’s important we understand what worked so that high profile cases can be best investigated and communicated under such spotlight and scrutiny. I am confident that the Constabulary is fully engaging in the review process.”