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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Amy Fenton & Paul Britton

'Everybody loved her - she was an amazing mum and partner' - Nicola Bulley's family pay tribute at her inquest

Nicola's Bulley's partner said 'everybody loved her' as he told an inquest into her death she was an 'incredible, amazing mum' who was 'full of beans' and in 'amazing spirits' the night before she went missing.

Paul Ansell said he believes the mum-of-two went to put a harness onto her dog, Willow, shortly before falling into the River Wyre in the village of St Michael's on Wyre in Lancashire on January 27. Mortgage advisor Ms Bulley's mobile phone was still connected to a work Microsoft Teams call when it was found on a bench overlooking the water.

Giving evidence, occasionally through tears, Mr Ansell said: "She was still listening to that meeting, so I think she must have maybe put the phone on the bench and gone to put the harness back on Willow."

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In a statement to the coroner, he said: "She was grateful for every day, she was an amazing mum and partner and this gave her huge security. She focused on the important things and did the right thing by everyone. She was well-respected by all who knew her. Everybody loved her.

"Nikki was a quiet person who enjoyed the simple side of life. She was a very private person and kept herself to herself."

Willow's harness, the inquest was told, was found lying in grass 'near a steep part of the slope' leading down to the river after Ms Bulley had taken her dog for a walk after dropping off her two children at school - a morning routine.

The bench by the riverside (Lancs Live/Jude Tolson)

The Bulley family, through their barrister, urged the coroner, Dr James Adeley, to record a verdict of accidental death. They said they were 'of the view' that 'rumour, suspicion and speculation' has been 'allayed by the evidence' heard over two days.

Sophie Cartwright KC, the family's barrister, said the phone evidence, post-mortem examination evidence, expert evidence and eye-witness accounts heard 'all point to Nikki’s death being an accident'.

"What occurred on the riverbank at probably some time shortly after 9.18am was a tragic accident for Nikki," said Ms Cartwright.

"It is clear from the evidence that at 9.18am Nikki increased the volume on [the call] and it appears that what happened after that must somehow be linked to the location of the dog harness found on the steep part of the slope.

"There has been much rumour, suspicion and speculation…the family are of the view that that has been allayed by the evidence. The family are comforted by the evidence that Nikki’s death would have been very soon after she entered the water."

The barrister urged the coroner to find that 'at approximately 9.30am Nicola Bulley, on the balance of probabilities, died in the river due to an accidental death'. The coroner will return later on Tuesday afternoon to give his conclusion and sum up the evidence heard.

Nicola with Willow (PA)

Ms Bulley, 45 and from Inskip in Lancashire, vanished after walking Willow, sparking a huge search operation and intense media and public interest.

The investigation into her disappearance attracted widespread attention and speculation which led police to take action against social media influencers and people 'playing private detectives' who visited the Lancashire village. Her body was found in the river 23 days after she went missing, around a mile farther downstream from the bench.

Ms Bulley's parents, Ernest and Dot, gave moving evidence on Tuesday, recalling their 'last' hug and kiss with their daughter. The night before she went missing, they were looking after the girls at Ms Bulley's home while she was on a Zoom work meeting.

"Before we went home we went to the front door and gave them all a kiss and a cuddle," said Mrs Bulley. Mr Bulley added: "We gave her a hug, as we always do with our children and with our grandchildren."

He described giving Ms Bulley a kiss and a hug and after he started to cry as he gave evidence, Mrs Bulley added: "For the last time."

Her father said as a little girl, Ms Bulley was 'always dancing around in her tutu' and as a teenager, 'wasn't any trouble'. He described her as a 'lovely little ballerina'.

Her body was found around three weeks later (PA)

Mr Ansell revealed Ms Bulley had a meeting planned for 11am on the morning she disappeared. She then had 'quite a lot of paperwork to get ready' for another meeting that afternoon, he added.

Giving evidence at County Hall in Preston, he said: "She would always come home from her morning walk at 10am-10.15am. When it got to 10.30am I started to feel a bit concerned."

The inquest heard he sent her a text saying 'have you got lost?' at 10.30am. Mr Ansell was asked why Willow's harness was off and said: "We would always take the harness off before going through the gate. Because she's a Springer she's very erratic and into the bushes, so anything that is on her that could get caught, we used to take it off."

He went on to be asked by the coroner why the harness was in the grass and the phone on bench. "When she got back to the bench, she is still listening to a conference call," said Mr Ansell. "She must have put the phone on the bench and then gone to put the harness back on Willow."

The inquest heard Ms Bulley had a 'successful' work meeting the day before she went missing, and Mr Ansell said 'she came home in amazing spirits'.

Police search teams (Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)

He spoke of a mental health 'blip' period but said: "She was getting back into her work, she was excited, it was going really well. She had worked so hard. She was happy about earning her own money and getting that independence again."

The night before she went missing, he said she was 'full of beans' and 'excited about her work'.

Mr Ansell said he agreed 'it was just a normal morning' and added: "She would always do two loops of that field before heading back to the bench and picking the car up from school."

Giving evidence Ms Bulley's sister, Louise Cunningham, said she had a 'special bond' with Willow - describing her as 'like a third child'.

She said there was 'no way Nikki would leave Willow unattended'.

The inquest heard the sisters had childhood nicknames for each other - Ms Bulley was Clacker and Louise was Tosh.

On the morning Ms Bulley disappeared, the inquest was told Louise texted her sister on WhatsApp and they were talking about booking a spa day. Louise booked the spa day that morning then signed off a text to her at 8.52am with the words 'Tosher'.

Louise said tearfully: "Literally I was saying it was booked, but she never picked up the message."

Her partner, Paul Ansell (PA)

The inquest was told the sisters were due to go to Ribby Hall for a spa day on March 18 - using a voucher Ms Bulley's daughters had bought her for Mother's Day in 2022.

Louise says her sister 'has never, ever confided in me about any suicidal thoughts or anything like that at all'.

Giving evidence, she said: "Every Christmas mum and dad would buy her a Springer Spaniel calender and every January Nikki would transfer everything onto the new one with a colour-coded system.

"Before having the girls she was a mortgage advisor…after the kids she re-sat her exams. She was just getting back into a routine of work again - and she was absolutely brilliant."

Ms Bulley's GP also gave evidence and said there was 'no mention' in the records of any suicidal feelings or self-harm concerns. The family had concerns over recent increased alcohol drinking, but Mr Ansell said that at the time she disappeared, she had stopped drinking and was back taking her HRT medication.


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