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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Ted Hennessey

Nicola Bulley’s death ‘a tragic accident’, family’s lawyer tells inquest - OLD

PA Media

Mother-of-two Nicola Bulley died after accidentally falling into the River Wyre in freezing temperatures, an inquest has concluded.

The 45-year-old mortgage adviser was walking her springer spaniel when she accidentally fell into the water in St Michael’s, Lancashire, with experts stating it would have been “almost impossible to swim against the current”.

Bulley would have suffered cold water shock which would have produced a “powerful response”, causing her to inhale a fatal amount of water and lose consciousness within a maximum of 45 seconds, the inquest heard.

A Home Office pathologist told the inquest at Preston County Hall that her cause of death was drowning and that there had been no evidence of any third-party involvement.

Giving evidence on Tuesday, Bulley’s tearful partner Paul Ansell broke down as he recalled her devotion to her family and two children.

Providing a final answer in a case that saw amateur sleuths trek to her hometown, senior coroner for Lancashire Dr James Adeley gave his conclusion that Bulley had died an accidental death and did not have “any desire” to take her own life.

Her disappearance on 27 January caused widespread speculation and became the focus of a social media frenzy, with TikTok conspiracy theorists descending on the village where she disappeared.

Due to the high-profile nature of the case, security remained tight throughout the two-day inquest, with Dr Adeley threatening imprisonment or fines to anyone who intended to disrupt the proceedings.

Nicola Bulley would have suffered cold water shock and would have lost consciousness within seconds
— (PA)

Speaking after the inquest, her family addressed the role social media had played in the investigation and said it was “upsetting” that they continue to receive online abuse.

Bulley’s body was not discovered until 19 February, just a mile downstream from the bench where her dog Willow and her mobile phone had been found.

She had last been seen alive at 9.10am by a fellow dog-walker, while her phone data revealed that she had increased the volume of her device at 9.18am.

Meanwhile, her FitBit, which was recovered from her body, showed a substantial increase in her heart rate at 9.22am, consistent with what might be cold water shock.

An inquest has concluded Nicola Bulley drowned after accidentally falling into cold water
— (PA)

The inquest had heard that prior to her death, emergency services had been called by Bulley’s partner and sister on 10 January, to express concerns about her increased alcohol consumption and general welfare.

Mental health clinician Theresa Lewis Leevy spoke to Bulley and provided advice around alcohol use but when asked if she appeared depressed, she told the court: “No, no, not that I could ascertain at the time.”

A missing poster of Nicola Bulley after she disappeared near the River Wyre (Owen Humphreys/PA)
— (PA Wire)

Her sister Louise Cunningham later said that Bulley had been “absolutely fuming” towards her for calling an ambulance, but that it had served as a “realisation” for her to stop drinking, and she soon returned to her normal self.

Ms Cunningham said: “She had a blip over Christmas [2022] but she was back on the HRT medication in January and back to work and back to the normal Nikki.”

A toxicology report conducted at her post-mortem found that she was not under the influence of alcohol when she fell into the river. Only a therapeutic amount of the painkiller paracetamol and beta-blocker propranolol were detected.

Her GP, Dr Rebecca Gray, said that while Bulley had reported “low mood and anxiety”, there had been “nothing” in her medical records to suggest she was suicidal.

Dr Adeley said: “Excluding a couple of comments over the Chrismas period when she was acting out of character and were treated as throw away comments, there was no indication of any intention to take her own life.”

Earlier today at the inquest Bulley’s heartbroken partner Mr Ansell described her as “an incredible mum,” who had enjoyed simple pleasures such as caring for her two daughters and enjoying walks in the countryside.

Bulley’s partner Paul Ansell on a visit to the riverside after she went missing
— (PA)

In his witness statement, he said: “Nikki was a quiet person who enjoyed the simple side of life. She was a very private person and kept herself to herself.”

Mr Ansell also told the hearing that he thinks she went to put a harness on her dog before falling into the river.

Her mobile phone was still connected to a work Teams call when it was found on a bench overlooking the water.

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.”

Shortly after 9.30am, a fellow dog-walker discovered the unattended springer spaniel and Bulley’s mobile phone. Penny Fletcher asked other locals for assistance before her daughter-in-law recognised Mr Ansell from the phone’s screensaver.

The school that her children attended were contacted and Mr Ansell received a phone call at 10.54am to inform him that Willow had been found with no sign of his wife. Just minutes earlier, he had sent her a text message asking “Have you got lost?” after she failed to return from her dog walk.

Bulley’s father paid an emotional tribute to his daughter and told the inquest that she was “a great daughter, sister and mother, we couldn’t ask for any more from her.”

Ernest Bulley said: “As a child she was lovely, a little ballerina, she always danced around in her tutu; she was great.”

Her family have criticised social media commentary and continue to receive negative targeted messages’
— (Supplied)

Each of her family members recalled that Bulley had been in high spirits in the days before her death, and was “excited” at the upcoming prospects of her career.

On the first day of the inquest, the hearing was told that there was no evidence she was assaulted and that she drowned after entering cold river water. Experts said this can cause a victim to gasp and inhale water and drown within seconds.

Professor Michael Tipton, a world expert in drowning, said there would have been a “fairly rapid incapacitation” after she went into the river, which could have been as cold as 3C.

“On the balance of probability, there was a fairly rapid incapacitation due to the cold shock.” Just two breaths of water would have been a “lethal dose” for someone of her size, Prof Tipton said.

The bench where Nicola Bulley’s phone was found, on the banks of the River Wyre in Lancashire
— (PA)

Dr Adeley confirmed her cause of death as drowning and concluded that she died an accidental death.

Reading a statement on behalf of the family, Terry Wilcox, of Hudgell Solicitors, thanked the coroner and Lancashire Constabulary and the support received from both friends and strangers.

However, the family revealed that they continued to receive “negative targeted messages” as well as seeing “wildly inaccurate speculation” on social media.

“We encourage people to look at the facts, the evidence which has been heard during the inquest, and the conclusion reached by the coroner,” they said.

“To ignore any amateur views and opinions, and be mindful of the impact words bring. We now need to be allowed time to comprehend all of the events leading up to this day.”

Lancashire Constabulary also added in their own statement: “I hope that HM 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, the community of St Michael’s.”

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