Police investigating the mysterious disappearance of mother Nicola Bulley have not found any evidence that she slipped or fell into the river, despite insisting it is their primary theory.
They’re currently investigating two new leads as the search on the Wyre River enters its 10th day.
The first new lead is the emergence of a potential ‘key witness’ who reached out to officers after a photograph of her wearing a yellow jacket and pushing a pram in the area was broadcast on a public appeal on Saturday night.
The second new line of inquiry relates to a Fitbit Ms Bulley was wearing on the morning she vanished. Police hope to use technology to help track her whereabouts via the smart watch.
Fitbits are also capable of monitoring a heart rate and could provide vital clues relating to Ms Bulley’s last known movements before she vanished.
Specialist crews will return to the river today to continue scouring the area for clues. And while maintaining it is still the ‘lead theory’ that Ms Bulley somehow came to be in the water, police have now revealed there is no evidence which backs this up.
Nicola Bulley’s distraught partner has not given up hope of finding her alive and ‘will not entertain any other outcome’ as the search enters its 10th day
Father-of-two Paul Ansell, 44, said Ms Bulley’s disappearance feels ‘no more real now’ than it did when he first learned she was missing
Speaking to The Sunday Times, Lancashire Police Superintendent Sally Riley said there is ‘no evidence of a slip or fall’ in the area at the centre of the investigation.
‘I think if it had been a sloping bank, a commonsense view would be that you would expect to find scuff marks.
‘If it is sheer and you lose your footing, you might not have any marks left on the grass. All of that has been subjected to a detailed search.’
Supt Riley said on the balance of probabilities, it is ‘highly unlikely’ criminal activity took place in such a tiny window of time which is currently unaccounted for.
Police are still trying to piece together about 10 minutes from the morning Ms Bulley disappeared.
She said: ‘This is a low-crime area. It’s genuinely a safe, tight-knit area, people look out for each other. A third-party [being] involved that we haven’t yet had sightings of, we haven’t caught on CCTV or dash-cam or all the other things I’ve mentioned, is just not likely.’
This does not mean they’ve entirely ruled out other scenarios.
Officers are still desperately appealing for witnesses to come forward, particularly near a CCTV black spot near Garstang Lane.
And Ms Bulley’s distraught partner has not given up hope of finding her alive, stating he ‘will not entertain any other outcome’ as the search continues.
Father-of-two Paul Ansell, 44, said Ms Bulley’s disappearance feels ‘no more real now’ than it did when he first learned she was missing.
‘The agony continues… the hope is stronger than ever of finding you. We need her home… we need a happy ending to this nightmare,’ he said.
Mr Ansell also doubled down on comments from Ms Bulley’s friends and other relatives warning police have very little basis for their theory that she fell in the river.
He said there was ‘no evidence yet to suggest any scenario over another and all options must be kept wide open’.
Underwater forensics expert Peter Faulding told the Mail police may have missed ‘critical’ evidence because they failed to seal off the area where Ms Bulley vanished.
Mr Faulding, who has worked on many high-profile criminal cases, said officers were too quick to decide there were no suspicious circumstances and described their investigation as ‘a mess’.
‘It should have been sealed off immediately as a potential crime scene. That area is critical. Critical forensics could have been found in that location,’ he said.
Police have issued an urgent appeal for a mother wearing a yellow rain jacket in their ongoing search for missing mother Nicola Bulley
Mr Ansell also doubled down on comments from Ms Bulley’s friends and other relatives warning police have very little basis for their theory that she fell in the river
‘Now we’ve had loads of people trampling around, covering up any tracks.
‘I don’t know how the police can say there’s no evidence of third-party involvement in this disappearance when they haven’t actually checked. I think this is a mess, really.’
Mr Faulding also offered his expertise to the investigation, saying he would be ready to offer assistance from Monday if police require him.
‘The sonar used by the police is pretty low-tech. It’s very unlikely they would be able to find a body with it,’ he said. ‘The divers the police are using are very experienced and professional, but searching that way is a very slow process.
‘They are having to swim along in a line, feeling for a body among the weeds, inching down the river bit by bit. They can probably only cover about 100 metres of the river on a good day. Even then, there’s an element of luck – divers can miss things in murky water.
‘With our kit, I can search about 10 miles of river in a day. If the police say the word, I will fly it up there by helicopter on Monday and get to work.’
Police said they’re urging the mystery woman in yellow to come forward as the search for Ms Bulley continues
Divers will continue looking for the missing mother throughout Saturday
Police today released a renewed appeal for witnesses, sharing a grainy image of a woman wearing a yellow rain jacket and pushing a pram with a young child.
Officers from Lancashire Constabulary described the woman in the photo as a ‘key witness’ and believe she was in the same area as Ms Bulley on Friday January 27, the morning she vanished from the River Wyre while walking her dog.
Within minutes of the initial appeal being made public, a relative confirmed the woman was ‘on the phone’ to police.
She said the woman in yellow had not seen anything that could assist police in the investigation.
Lancashire Police said: ‘We must stress that she was very much being treated as a witness and was one of many people in St Michael’s on Friday, January 27th.
‘Our enquiries to find Nicola are extensive and will include speaking to as many members of the public as possible.’
Amid reports of a widening difference of opinion between Ms Bulley’s family and detectives, Mr Ansell echoed police’s pleas for potential witnesses who might have dashcam footage to come forward.
Police are particularly interested in speaking with people who may have been travelling near Blackpool Lane and Garstang Lane between 9am and 10am on the day Ms Bulley vanished.
Members of the public joined the widespread search for the 45-year-old over the weekend
‘Whilst you may not think that you hold any relevant information, it is really important that we gather as much footage as possible from the area that morning so we can review every piece meticulously to establish whether Nicola can be seen,’ police said.
‘We know from the footage we are currently reviewing, that this is a busy road, particularly at that time in the morning.
‘There will be many people who were in that area at the time who may not think they can help, however we would urge you not to make that decision yourself and to come forward so we can have as much material as possible to assist the investigation.’
The appeal for footage from Garstang Lane comes after police said that while their lead theory is that the missing mother fell into the river, they’re still exploring other possibilities.
Substantial CCTV in the region has all but ruled out she exited the park from most of the surrounding gates, but the path leading to Garstang Lane toward the A5/A6 has thus far proven to be a camera black spot.
Lancashire Police Superintendent Sally Riley told the Lancashire Post: ‘Several exits of the riverside area have CCTV covering them or exits are locked and therefore couldn’t have been passed through by Nicola.
‘There’s only a very small area onto Garstang Lane toward the A5/A6 which is not covered by CCTV and that’s why we’re appealing today for dashcam footage or for people who may have been walking on Garstang Lane or driving in the area to come forward if they can.’
The owners of a caravan park close to the riverbank where Ms Bulley is believed to have fallen into the water have already had their CCTV tapes seized by police.
Nicola Bulley’s sister (pictured together) warned there is ‘no evidence whatsoever’ that suggests the missing mother fell in the river, despite police confirming it’s their lead theory
A police helicopter was seen over St Michael’s on Wyre in Lancashire on Saturday
The most recent appeal for the woman in yellow had offered renewed hope for family and friends.
They know all it takes it one sliver of information to break open a case like this.
Police earlier said: ‘A woman was seen walking on Garstang Road/Blackpool Road, St Michael’s on the morning of Friday 27th January pushing a pram.’
The woman in question was walking from the direction of Allotment Lane towards the Grapes public house at approximately 8.22am, police say. She was seen again walking on Allotment Lane towards Garstang Road at 8.41am.
Hours later, police confirmed they had spoken with the woman, and removed the initial appeal.
A spokesperson for the force said they’re looking to speak to as many witnesses as possible as the search continues, before again pleading with the public to avoid speculation.
‘The speculation and abuse on social media aimed at some people who are merely assisting our enquiry, is totally unacceptable,’ a spokesperson said.
This is the latest of several public appeals police have made since Ms Bulley vanished. Earlier, a woman in a bright red coat was identified following a similar callout. She told police she had nothing of value to report from the morning in question.
Police expressed concerns the missing mother-of-two may have fallen in the icy cold water on River Wyre while trying to retrieve her dog Willow’s tennis ball. Specialist search crews have not recovered the ball – or anything of note – at this stage.
If Ms Bulley did fall into the water, she may have been weighed down by the heavy clothing she was wearing on the day she vanished.
But her sister Louise Cunningham urged the public to keep an open mind in a social media post last night.
Officers were seen in lines walking close to the river bank on both sides on Saturday morning
Officers have been seen walking the tow path next to the river, a route Ms Bulley often took after dropping her daughters off at school
Paul Ansell issued a public appeal through the media in the week, vowing not to give up hope
‘Off the back of the latest police media update, please can I add there is no evidence whatsoever that she has gone into the river, it’s just a theory,’ she said.
‘Everyone needs to keep an open mind as not all CCTV and leads have been investigated fully, the police confirmed the case is far from over.’
Anyone with information or footage is asked to call 101, quoting log 565 of January 30. For immediate sightings, please call 999.
Police are said to be looking into how to access data from Ms Bulley’s Fitbit in a bid to track her movements, her friend revealed today.
Friend Emma White said on Saturday that the Fitbit had not been synced to a device since Tuesday.
Speaking close to the spot where Ms Bulley was last seen, Ms White said: ‘The police are trying to use the data from her Fitbit to find her. The watch can receive data, but cannot connect to the internet.
‘However, we hope they can somehow locate it using Bluetooth signals from people’s phones. We are clinging to hope. Nicola falling into the river is just a hypothesis.’
She added the Fitbit has not ‘synced’ with its servers since the Tuesday before Ms Bulley’s disappearance.
Police are said to be trying to trace data from Nicola Bulley’s Fitbit (pictured on her right arm)
Nicola, 45, disappeared shortly after dropping her two daughters off at school on January 27
There are ways to access a Fitbit’s data using the app on the owner’s phone or third-party tracking apps, which can allow any smartphone to sync with the device if it is within a 100ft radius.
But this only lasts for as long as the Fitbit still has battery left.
Search teams from Lancashire Constabulary are continuing to trawl the River Wyre, along with specialist crews from around the country.
Friends of the family said on Friday that Ms Bulley’s daughters had been asking: ‘Where’s Mummy? How is Mummy?’
Their father is trying to put on a brave face for the sake of the children, and is being supported by Ms Bulley’s distraught parents and sister.
The missing mortgage adviser, 45, sent a text to a friend organising a playdate for their children minutes before she vanished, it emerged yesterday.
A resident of St Michael’s on Wyre said: ‘She booked a playdate, 8.57am, she sent a text message to a friend whose mortgage she had just recently signed off on to arrange for the girls to go for tea this week.’
The local, who did not want to be named, said this was more evidence that she had no intention of voluntarily disappearing, adding: ‘You wouldn’t have done that if you were going to get up and go missing.’
Anyone with information or footage is asked to call 101, quoting log 565 of January 30. For immediate sightings, call 999
Police officers search near the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, today
Nicola Bulley’s disappearance: A timeline
– January 27
The 45-year-old dropped her daughters – aged six and nine – off at school in the morning before walking her dog, Willow, in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire.
Lancashire Police have said the mortgage adviser, from nearby Inskip, had been walking along a path beside the River Wyre just before 9am.
She was seen by a dog walker who knew her at around 8.50am, and their pets interacted briefly before they parted ways, according to the force.
At 8.53am, Ms Bulley sent an email to her boss, 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.
By 9.30am, Ms Bulley’s Teams call had ended, but her phone stayed connected to the call. Approximately five minutes later, another dog walker found her phone on a bench beside the river, with Willow darting between the two.
At 10.50am, Ms Bulley’s family and the school attended by her children were told about her disappearance.
Lancashire Constabulary launched an investigation into Ms Bulley’s whereabouts on the same day and appealed for witnesses to contact them.
– January 28
Lancashire Constabulary deployed drones, helicopters and police search dogs as part of the major missing person operation.
They were assisted by Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, as well as Bowland Pennine Mountain Rescue team and the North West Underwater Search Team.
– January 29
Local residents held a meeting at the village hall to organise a search for Ms Bulley at 10.30am on Sunday, according to reports from The Mirror, and around 100 people joined the search.
Police urged volunteers to exercise caution, describing the river and its banks as ‘extremely dangerous’ and saying that activity in these areas presented ‘a genuine risk to the public’.
– January 30
Superintendent Sally Riley from Lancashire Constabulary said police were ‘keeping a really open mind about what could have happened’, and that they were not treating Ms Bulley’s disappearance as suspicious.
– January 31
Lancashire Constabulary spoke with a potential witness – a man who had been walking a small white fluffy dog near the River Wyre at the time of Ms Bulley’s disappearance.
Her family released a statement saying they had been ‘overwhelmed by the support’ in their community, and that her daughters were ‘desperate to have their mummy back home safe’.
– February 1
Ms Bulley’s parents, Ernest and Dot Bulley, spoke to The Mirror about the ‘horror’ they faced over the possibility of never seeing her again.
Her father told the newspaper: ‘We just dread to think we will never see her again, if the worst came to the worst and she was never found, how will we deal with that for the rest of our lives.’
– February 2
Lancashire Constabulary spoke with a second witness who they had identified with the help of the public using CCTV – but they told police they did not have any further information to aid their inquiry.
Officers from the North West Police Underwater and Marine support unit searched the area close to where Ms Bulley’s mobile phone was found, while police divers scoured the River Wyre.
Meanwhile, Ms Bulley’s family appealed to the public for help tracing her. Speaking with Sky News, her sister Louise Cunningham said: ‘There has got to be somebody who knows something and all we are asking is, no matter how small or big, if there is anything you remember that doesn’t seem right, then please reach out to the police.
‘Get in touch and get my sister back.’ Ms Bulley’s father said that his family hoped their interview would ‘spark a light’ that would lead to her being found.
– February 3
Lancashire Police said they were working on the hypothesis that Ms Bulley may have fallen into the River Wyre.
Superintendent Sally Riley urged against speculation, but said it was ‘possible’ that an ‘issue’ with Ms Bulley’s dog may have led her to the water’s edge.
She urged the public to look out for items of clothing Ms Bulley was last seen wearing, and gave an extensive list.
Ms Bulley’s friends also shared heartfelt appeals via television interviews, including Emma White, who told the BBC that Ms Bulley’s daughters were continually asking where she was.
– February 4
Friends reveal police are hoping to utilise Ms Bulley’s Fitbit data to help track her.
A new appeal is issued for a mystery ‘woman in yellow’ to come forward. The woman was pictured walking in the same area as Ms Bulley, pushing a stroller with a young child.
Ms Bulley’s partner speaks out to also cast doubt over the police theory she had fallen in the river. Mr Ansell says he will never give up hope of finding her.
Police confirm there is ‘no evidence’ Ms Bulley fell in the river, despite maintaining it is their lead theory.