Where was body found in Nicola Bulley river search? Who tipped police off - and has the body been identified?
A body has been found in the search for Nicola Bulley but is yet to be formally identified.
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Police are working to identify a body that has been found close to the scene where Nicola Bulley disappeared.
The mother-of-two was last seen walking her dog in St Michael’s on Wyre after dropping her daughters, aged six and nine, at school on 27 January - just over three weeks ago. On Sunday (19 February), Lancashire Police said they “sadly recovered a body” from the water after being called to the River Wyre.
In a statement, the police explained that formal identification had not yet been carried out so they were “unable to say” if it was Ms Bulley - but her family were informed of the development. Her partner Paul Ansell subsequently told Sky News of his “agony”, adding: “We’re all together, we have to be strong.”
Lancashire Constabulary has faced intense scrutiny throughout the search - coming under particular fire after making Ms Bulley’s struggles with alcohol and peri-menopause public three weeks after she vanished. They later added in a statement that said the 45-year-old mortgage adviser, from Inskip in Lancashire, had stopped taking her HRT medication.
A public backlash and interventions from the government and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper followed, with Lancashire Police confirming a date had been set for an internal review into the investigation. A spokeswoman said: “A review of the investigation is diarised and will be conducted by our head of crime detective Chief Superintendent Pauline Stables.”
Where was the body found?
The body was found on an ‘unremarkable’ stretch of the river, around a mile from where Ms Bulley was last seen walking her dog in St Michael’s on Wyre. The location was described as a mile or so outside the village, just past a slight bend, and close to where a tree had fallen on its side half in and half outside the water, with branches and undergrowth partially submerged.
Some have questioned how and why the police did not find a body earlier, when it has been recovered so close to the site of where Ms Bulley first disappeared - and where “extensive” searches were said to have been taking place.
Underwater search expert Peter Faulding, who was called in by Ms Bulley’s family to help find her, previously found no trace of a body in the section of river searched by his team and police divers over a period of three days. On Sunday, Mr Faulding told MailOnline that he had only cleared the area around the bench where her mobile phone was found - and that the tidal section beyond the weir was “an open book.”
He said: “All I can say is when we searched she was not on the bottom of that river. We weren’t searching the reeds, our job was to search the water.”
Meanwhile, Former Lancashire Police chief superintendent Bob Eastwood defended the force’s investigation, calling out “an absolute onslaught” of criticism.
Asked how it was possible a body could be found a mile from Ms Bulley’s last known location - despite an extensive river search - he told BBC Breakfast that the river is tidal and fast flowing. He said: “The way the tide comes and goes…it is possible that the body could have flowed in and flowed out and has eventually been given up by the water. To jump in…and automatically assume that the body was there the whole time is a step too far.”
Mr Eastwoo went on to criticise the way specialists have behaved in the search, claiming they have “actually fed into a lot of people’s obsession”. He also told BBC Radio 4: “Only yesterday there were people purporting to be the media that quite clearly weren’t and they were climbing over the fence to take pictures of the body that the police were recovering. This is something else.”
He also said Lancashire Police’s decision to release information about Ms Bulley’s struggles with alcohol and menopause was likely due to “somebody [having] sold a story to the press” about that information. He continued: “Knowing policing as I do, I suspect that they made that decision in order to prevent somebody releasing it in that way. It was unpleasant information to hear but I think in all the circumstances, from what I know and believe, I think the police were right to do so.”
Who tipped off the police about the body?
A man and a woman walking their dog discovered the body and called police, the PA news agency understands. A police spokesman said officers were called to reports of a body in the river close to Rawcliffe Road at around 11.35am on Sunday (19 February).
Has the body been identified?
The body has not yet been formally identified, but Ms Bulley’s family was informed of the development before it was made public. Lancashire Police has said it is working hard to complete the identification process - adding that they are treating the death as unexplained.
A police statement said: “An underwater search team and specialist officers have subsequently attended the scene, entered the water and have sadly recovered a body. No formal identification has yet been carried out, so we are unable to say whether this is Nicola Bulley at this time.
“Procedures to identify the body are ongoing. We are currently treating the death as unexplained. Nicola’s family have been informed of developments and our thoughts are with them at this most difficult of times. We ask that their privacy is respected.”
When was Nicola Bulley last seen?
The mother-of-two was last seen walking her dog in St Michael’s on Wyre after dropping her daughters, aged six and nine, at school on 27 January, just over three weeks ago. She then took her spaniel, Willow, for a walk along the path by the River Wyre at 8.43am, heading towards a gate and bench in the lower field. Nicola was seen by a dog walker who knew her at around 8.50am, and their pets interacted briefly before they parted ways.
At 8.53am, Nicola sent an email to her boss, followed by a message to her friend six minutes later, before logging on to a Microsoft Teams call at 9.01am. She was seen by a second witness at 9.10am, the last known sighting. Her phone was back in the area of the bench at 9.20am before the work call ended 10 minutes later, with her mobile remaining logged on after the call. At 9.33am, another dog walker found her phone on a bench beside the river. Willow was also found in the vicinity.