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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Abigail Nicholson & John Scheerhout

Nicola Bulley inquest is read her last text before she fell in river

The last text Nicola Bulley sent was read out at an inquest into her death.

The 45-year-old was last seen alive taking her dog for a walk along the River Wyre on January 27. An inquest, which started on Monday, June 26, was told police believe Nicola had somehow fallen down the steep banking leading to the near-freezing water.

With the temperature as low as four degrees celcius, two of the world's leading experts on drowning concluded she would have been "rapidly incapacitated" from a phenomenon known as cold water shock. The court was told Nicola would have died within a matter of seconds.

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A number of doctors and witnesses gave evidence at yesterday's inquest and the court heard a complete timeline of Nicola's disappearance. One section of evidence concerned the last text Nicola received, and to which she replied, from her friend Lucy.

The waitress had been texting Nicola to arrange a play date between their two daughters. Nicola had texted Lucy the night before she went missing but Lucy only saw the text on the Friday morning, the court heard.

Lucy replied at 8.13am. She told the court: "I said my daughter would love to come and play." At 8.59am Nicola replied confirming a time and included a smiley face emoji. Lucy and Nicola were also due to meet up the following day.

She said: “We were going to be meeting up, a group of mums, on the Saturday night for a few drinks.”

Home Office pathologist Dr Alison Armour who carried out a post mortem two days after Nicola was found, more than three weeks after she disappeared. Her body had made its way downstream around a mile and a half from where Nicola had entered the water.

Dr Armour found no signs of assault or third-party involvement but did note several bruises on Nicola's arms and legs consistent with a fall. Dirt was found in Nicola's throat while her lungs contained 200ml of "watery fluid" and she had also swallowed 100ml of water.

Nicola Bulley and her pet dog (PA)

The presence of water within the alveolar spaces in the lungs allowed Dr Armour to conclude the cause of death was drowning.

Nicola was described as a "holiday swimmer" and Senior Coroner Dr James Adeley asked PC Thackery to give an account of his experiences of deaths by drowning. He said: “I have attended a number of deaths where the water is chest deep and with a flat bottom with no flow to the water.

"You could avoid drowning by keeping calm and standing up, however, it doesn’t happen like that when you suddenly enter cold water.

"You gasp and you breathe in water and these drownings could have been prevented if they had kept calm and kept your head above the water but it’s never that simple. In this case you can’t put your foot down, the river was moving and even if you got to the point of safety it’s difficult to climb out.”

Furthermore, one of the world's leading experts on what happens to an individual when they suddenly find themselves in cold water explained how that person would solely be focused on trying to take a breath. Professor Mike Tipton said that on entering cold water an individual would go into cold water shock and instinctively take a gasp.

He believed that, given the depth of the river and the nature of her fall into the river, Nicola's initial gasp would have happened underwater which would mean she would immediately swallow a quantity of water.

Prof Tipton said: "We have heard people talk about roots to grab onto and points of safety but you would not be thinking about that. You are preoccupied with attempting to hold your breath and get back to the surface.

"There is no normal, logical cognition going on. You are absolutely distracted and entering such water is a painfully cold experience."

Someone of Nicola's build and weight would take in between one to two litres of water in that first breath underwater. The amount of water needed to cause drowning is around two litres and Prof Tipton concluded: "It would only take maybe one or two breaths to cross the lethal dose.”

Prof Tipton concluded her death "would have been almost instantaneous and certainly within 30 seconds" of her falling into the water. Moreover, the estimate of 10 seconds before a person falls unconscious is the "upper limit", and Prof Tipton said it would more likely have been one or two seconds.

The inquest was attended by Nicola's partner Paul Ansell as well as her parents, Dot and Ernest Bulley, and her sister Louise, who listened intently as several members of the public gave evidence. They were the last people to see Nikki alive before she disappeared.

The inquest continues today.

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