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Nottingham Post
Nottingham Post
Ted Hennessey & Pat Hurst

Heartbreaking final image of Nicola Bulley after inquest hears tragic details of her death

Pictures which show the final time Nicola Bulley was seen on camera have been released. It comes after an inquest into her death concluded on Tuesday that the mum-of-two drowned after accidentally falling into cold water.

Ms Bulley vanished after dropping off her daughters, six and nine, at school, and taking her usual dog walk along the River Wyre in St Michael’s, Lancashire, on January 27. The mum-of-two was seen on the family's Ring cam before she took her children to school that morning.

The 45-year-old disappeared while on a work call as she took the family dog for a walk along the River Wyre in St Michaels on Wyre, Lancashire. Her disappearance prompted frenzied speculation and multiple conspiracy theories online. Dr James Adeley, senior coroner for Lancashire, concluding the inquest into her death at County Hall, Preston, on Tuesday, that her death was accidental as she fell into the river and suffered "cold water shock", ruling out suicide.

Following completion of the inquest, her family hit out at “wildly inaccurate speculation” about her death on social media as a coroner found she drowned after accidentally falling into cold water.

During the huge search after she vanished, police urged against people fuelling damaging rumours making their job harder and attracting sightseers to the village where she disappeared.

Coroner Dr James Adeley said one purpose of her inquest was to “allay rumour and suspicion” and he would rely only on “reliable sources” and not explore the “theories advanced by those who contribute to social media fora”.

Her partner, Paul Ansell, and sister, Louise Cunningham, along with her parents Ernest and Dorothy Bulley were all tearful as they gave evidence on Tuesday.

Ms Bulley was described as being a “great daughter, sister and mother”. Dr Adeley said “there was no indication” she had intended to take her own life.

He added: “Her behaviour in the week before hear death was back to normal, she had restarted her HRT therapy, stopped drinking some time before, was making plans for play dates and spa days with several people, was becoming increasingly successful at her new career as a mortgage broker and behaved entirely normally during her parents visit of the night before and with Paul Ansell on the morning of her death.

“The circumstances found after her death would also be extremely unusual for suicide where Nikki left Willow, a dog to who she was devoted and was described as a third child, alone on the river bank.”

Dr Adeley said Ms Bulley was last seen alive at 9.10am by a fellow dog walker and at 9.18am adjusted the volume on her iPhone as she was on a works Teams call for her job as a mortgage broker.

Her Fitbit watch at 9:22am recorded a significant spike in heart rate, a feature of cold water shock and recorded no more steps after 9.30am.

Three minutes later a dog walker found the iPhone on the bench and Ms Bulley’s dog Willow, running loose.

Dr Adeley said: “In summary, Nikki was last seen alive at approximately 9.10am, interacted with her phone at 9.18am when she adjusted the volume and Mrs Fletcher found Willow with no one in sight at 9.33am.

“This provides a maximum window of time of 15 minutes between the last known point that Nikki was alive and when she was not present in the area of the bench.”

Dr Adeley said evidence about the River Wyre showed the area around the bench was above a steep grassed slope, with an “almost vertical drop” to the water with no footholds to climb out of the water and the flow of the river that day making it almost impossible to swim against the current.

The coroner concluded, on the evidence of Professor Mike Tipton and Dr Paddy Morgan, both drowning experts, that Ms Bulley would have lost consciousness within around 30 seconds such was the low temperature of the river and the effects of cold water shock on the body.

The coroner also ruled-out any suspicious or third party involvement in Ms Bulley’s death and cited the extensive police investigation and analysis of CCTV.

He added: “Consequently, there is no evidence to support that a third party was involved in Nikki’s death.”

Dr Adeley said the evidence was not sufficient for him to conclude what occurred that led Ms Bulley to enter the water, but ruled out suicide, saying there was “an absence of evidence” to support that finding.

An independent review of Lancashire Police’s handling of the case is currently under way by the College of Policing, ordered by Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Andrew Snowden.

Here is the key evidence heard during the inquest pointing to accidental death and addressing some of the rumours and myths that have circulated since Nicola Bulley vanished.

– The ‘scream’

Two witnesses reported hearing a “scream” on the morning that Nicola Bulley vanished. But both witnesses gave different times for the event and both were reported to have happened later than the time digital evidence suggests Ms Bulley went into the water, between 9.18am and 9.30am.

Sophie Cartwright KC, representing the Bulley family, said: “We would submit, bearing in mind the timing of what was heard, you can dismiss this scream as irrelevant.”

Dr Adeley concluded that by the time the scream was heard, Ms Bulley was probably already dead.

– Pathology and toxicology

Tests after the post-mortem examination revealed Ms Bulley had not been drinking and only had the usual therapeutic levels of a prescription drug in her body.

A number of bruises were found on her body but none played a part in her death, according to Home Office pathologist Alison Armour.

She said water in the lungs showed Ms Bulley was alive when she entered the water and there was no evidence of any “third-party” involvement in her drowning.

CCTV footage, dashcam footage and doorbell footage was all traced and analysed by police – nothing turned up to suggest any suspicious involvement in Ms Bulley’s death.

– Cold water shock

Pc Matthew Thackray, a police diver, said there was a large slope near to where Ms Bulley is believed to have entered the water.

And on the day she vanished there was a “steady flow” in the river.

He said the temperature of the water was “almost freezing” and the cold water shock, the body’s natural response to being immersed in icy water, would make it difficult to swim properly.

Professor Michael Tipton, a world expert in drowning, said there would have been a “fairly rapid incapacitation” and it may have been a matter of seconds before she began to lose consciousness and drown.

– iPhone and Fitbit

Nicola Bulley’s Fitbit watch stopped recording steps beyond 9.30am on the day she disappeared, according to digital specialists at Lancashire Police. The Fitbit also recorded a “substantial” spike in the heart-rate reading on the device on that day, at 9.22am – a feature of cold water shock.

Police concluded she fell into the water between 9.18am and 9.30am and “possibly” at 9.22am.

Her iPhone, placed on a bench overlooking the water, had its last human interaction at 9.18am, when the volume was turned up, with Ms Bulley on a works Teams call at the time.

– Medical evidence

Police designated Ms Bulley as a “vulnerable” missing person and launched a search immediately after she vanished after a call with her partner Paul Ansell.

Dr Rebecca Gray, Ms Bulley’s GP, said she had never discussed self-harm or suicidal thought with her, although she had treated Ms Bulley for “low mood and anxiety”, starting in 2018 and she had HRT treatment for the menopause.

Coroner Dr James Adeley concluded there was an “absence of evidence” to suggest Ms Bulley was suicidal.

– Family

Both Mr Ansell and her sister Louise Cunningham said she was looking forward to the future at the time of her death and was “devoted” to her children and family.

Despite a “blip” when her drinking increased around Christmas last year, she was back to her normal self the following month.

The day before she vanished, Ms Bulley had had a positive work meeting about new business as a mortgage broker, her career finally taking off after looking after her daughters when they were younger. She was also making plans for a spa day, a play date for her youngest child and an evening out with other mothers from her children’s school.

– Willow the dog

Ms Bulley treated her eight-year-old springer spaniel as a “third child” and doted on her dog. She would never intentionally have left the dog unattended and alone on the riverbank, according to her family.

Speaking after, Ms Bulley’s family criticised the role social media played following her disappearance.

Terry Wilcox, of Hudgell Solicitors, which represented the family, said in a statement: “It’s upsetting that we’ve continued to receive negative targeted messages and still witness wildly inaccurate speculation being shared over numerous platforms.

“We encourage people to look at the facts, the evidence which has been heard during the inquest, and the conclusion reached by the Coroner, to ignore any amateur views and opinions, and be mindful of the impact words bring.”

The family also said the “emotional impact will stay long in our hearts” and that they will “never get over the loss of our Nikki”.

The statement went on: “The help and support we have received over these few months has meant more than words can say. From family and friends, to complete strangers across the country and world, thank you.

“Nikki and Paul’s girls have already taken great comfort in the deeply thoughtful gifts sent to them in goodwill, and in time they will read the many cards which are filled with such kindness and love.”

Lancashire Constabulary’s head of crime Detective Chief Superintendent Pauline Stables said: “I hope that His Majesty’s Coroner’s clear and definitive findings will put an end to ill-informed speculation and conspiracy theories which have been so damaging to Nikki’s family and the community of St Michael’s.

“I would like to finish by bringing this back to Nikki. She was clearly a much-loved mum, partner, daughter, sister and friend.

“I would once again express my deepest sympathy to all her loved ones and I would ask that their privacy is respected at this time to allow them the time and space to rebuild and to heal.”

Police had accused “TikTokers” of “playing private detectives” near the scene of Ms Bulley’s disappearance.

After she went missing, reports emerged of a number of apparent content creators descending on the village and spreading false information.

There were rumours about a derelict house on the other side of the River Wyre, a red van in the area, a fisherman seen nearby and a glove belonging to Ms Bulley, which were all dismissed by police.

People on social media had also made false accusations about their being third-party involvement, which was not found to be the case.

Investigators were “inundated with false information, accusations and rumours” relating to the case.

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