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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Lydia Chantler-Hicks

‘I don’t think Nicola Bulley fell in the water’, says expert searching river for missing mum

An underwater search expert who has spent two days helping police scour the River Wyre for missing mum Nicola Bulley says he does not believe she fell into the waterway.

Specialist Group International (SGI) – a private company that regularly assists police across the south east with underwater search operations – joined the massive search operation in Lancashire on Monday.

Mother-of-two Ms Bulley, 45, disappeared on January 27 while walking her dog in the village of St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, with police theorising she slipped into the river.

But on Wednesday, following two full days spent searching, SGI boss Peter Faulding told radio station LBC: “If I’m honest, I don’t think she fell in the water.

“That’s just my opinion, with all the drownings that I’ve dealt with over the years,” he added.

Nicola Bulley has been missing since January 27 (PA Media)

“[Bodies] normally go down. And the police dive team are brilliant – they know what they’re doing, they’re professional, and they would have found her, as we would have done.

“We locate people quickly. And that’s what I’m shocked with – that she’s disappeared.”

SGI experts brought a £55,000 sonar machine capable of mapping large areas of sea floors and river beds to the search, after a 10-day trawl by Lancashire Police proved fruitless.

Mr Faulding previously said the high-frequency equipment “can see every single stick and stone laying on the riverbed”.

Peter Faulding CEO of private underwater search and recovery company Specialist Group International (SGI) (PA)

Lancashire Police continues to theorise that Ms Bulley tragically fell into the river, and was then unable to get out as she was weighed down by winter clothing and wellington boots.

A team of 40 detectives are working on approximately 500 different lines of inquiry, Superintendent Sally Riley said at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

More than 700 drivers who travelled through the village of St Michael’s on Wyre around the time the 45-year-old went missing are also being traced.

“At the moment there are around 500 active pieces of information and lines of inquiry that we’re working on to try and find answers for Nicola’s family,” Supt Riley said.

However, it is still the force’s belief that Ms Bulley fell in the River Wyre, Ms Riley added, while rejecting suggestions the missing mother could have been a victim of crime.

Supt Riley said that “every single” potential suspicion or criminal suggestion that had come in, had been looked at by detectives and discounted.

Specialist Group International, including CEO Peter Faulding (right) in St Michael's on Wyre, using sonar to search for Nicola Bulley (PA)

“I would like to reassure the community that nothing in this investigation so far, it has been checked out if it has come in suggesting crime, it has been checked and discounted,” she said.

“So every single potential third party line of inquiry and potential suspicious or criminal element has been looked at and discounted.

“It does remain our belief that Nicola sadly fell into the river and that this is a missing persons inquiry.”

Family and friends of Ms Bulley, from the village of Inskip, have questioned the police theory that she fell into the water while walking her dog.

Her sister Louise Cunningham previously urged people to “keep an open mind”, saying there is “no evidence whatsoever” that Ms Bulley fell in the river.

“There is no evidence whatsoever that she has gone into the river, it’s just a theory,” she said.

Ms Bulley’s friend Heather Gibbons, speaking from the banks of the river on Tuesday, said: “The truth is in this, nothing is making sense.

“The truth is if we look at it factually, no-one knows [what happened to Ms Bulley] until we have some evidence.

Nicola Bulley, pictured with her partner of 12 years, Paul Ansell (Facebook)

“I know that the family are massively appreciative of all the police have done.

“As family and friends, the way we are looking at it is, between Peter and his team and the police, we feel we have got the best of the best on that water and hopefully it will be a completion, one way or the other.

“And if they find nothing, then maybe its time to start looking down other avenues.”

On the morning she disappeared, Ms Bulley took her daughters, aged nine and six, to school in St Michael’s on Wyre.

The mortgage adviser then took her spaniel Willow for a walk in the village – along a riverside route she had taken frequently, around three miles from where she lives.

She had logged in to a work Microsoft Teams call at 9.01am, which ended at 9.30am though her phone remained connected to the call.

She was seen by another dog walker at 9.10am – the last known sighting of her – and police traced telephone records of her mobile phone as it remained on a bench overlooking the river at 9.20am.

The phone was found by a dog walker around 9.35am, with Willow nearby.

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