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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Paul Britton

Nicola Bulley's family urge the public 'to look at the facts' and 'ignore amateur opinions' after coroner rules she accidentally drowned

The family of Nicola Bulley have urged the public to 'look at the facts' and 'ignore any amateur views and opinions' after a coroner ruled the mum-of-two drowned accidentally.

Speaking after a two-day inquest, they urged people to 'be mindful of the impact words bring' and revealed they still receive 'negative targeted messages' on social media, as well as seeing 'wildly inaccurate speculation'. Police chiefs, meanwhile, called in a strongly-worded statement for an end to 'ill-informed speculation and conspiracy theories' surrounding the tragedy.

A senior detective thanked the coroner for what she called his 'clear and definitive findings' - and said inaccurate commentary on social media and elsewhere 'had been damaging' to the family and the village in Lancashire where 45-year-old mortgage broker Ms Bulley lived.

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Ms Bulley, from Inskip, Lancashire, disappeared while walking her dog, Willow, along the River Wyre in St Michael's on Wyre after dropping her daughters, aged six and nine, at school on January 27, sparking a huge search operation and intense media and public interest.

Her mobile phone was found on a bench near the riverside, still logged in to a Microsoft Teams work meeting, and Willow's harness was found lying in grass 'near a steep part of the slope' leading down to the river, the two-day inquest at County Hall in Preston, which ended on Tuesday, was told.

Footage from a Ring doorbell (PA)

Walking her dog, the coroner was told, was a morning routine and she would do two 'loops' of fields near the river then return to the school to get the car. Her body was found in the river 23 days after she went missing.

The investigation into Ms Bulley 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.

Police have also released screengrab images from a Ring doorbell showing Ms Bulley, her children and her partner, Paul Ansell, leaving for the school run in her Mercedes car on the morning she died. Her Springer Spaniel, Willow, is also shown in the images, believed to be some of the last of her alive.

The coroner, Dr James Adeley, said there was an 'absence of any evidence' in terms of suicide and said it was likely that Ms Bulley entered the water at 9.22am on the day when her FitBit, which was recovered with her body, recorded a 'significant' spike in her heart rate.

But he said he was unable to determine exactly why she entered the water. The coroner said he found that 'on January 27 at around 9.22am, Nicola Jane Bulley fell into the River Wyre and died almost immediately'.


Dr Adeley said there was no sign of natural causes - and the only remaining conclusion was accidental death, a conclusion he recorded. He said the evidence ruled out any 'third-party involvement' after a pathologist who carried out a post-mortem examination found no evidence that she was assaulted or harmed.

Summing up, Dr Adeley said the inquest was not dealing with the operational response of the police to Ms Bulley's disappearance. The force also faced criticism for releasing personal details about the missing mum at the time.

Her partner, Mr Ansell, said in evidence: "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."

The Bulley family, through their barrister, said they were 'of the view' that 'rumour, suspicion and speculation' has been 'allayed by the evidence' heard.

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'.

Ms Bulley's body was found more than three weeks after she went missing (PA)

"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."

Dr Adeley said Ms Bulley fell into the river by accident and suffered 'cold water shock'.

He said said: "Excluding a couple of comments over the Christmas period when she was acting out of character and were treated as throwaway comments, there was no indication of any intention to take her own life.

"Her behaviour in the week before hear death was back to normal, she had restarted her hormone replacement 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."

He added: "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 riverbank.

The family's solicitor speaks outside court (James Maloney/Lancs Live)

"Nikki would also had to have had sufficient knowledge of cold water shock to realise as to how rapidly a death may occur as otherwise she may be spotted and saved; that she chose to do so at the main intersection of paths where she could be interrupted at any point would be unusual and to leave her car keys in her pocket with the car in the school playground where her children, to whom she was devoted, would see it would be cruel."

The coroner said all of the witnesses who were in the area did not note anyone suspicious in the area of the field where Ms Bulley was walking. Det Supt Rebecca Smith said CCTV from three of the four entry points to the field showed nobody acting unusually.

CCTV from the fourth point only showed one direction, but this also showed nobody, the inquest heard.

Police also contacted the owners of 700 cars which passed on the nearest road and examined dashcam footage, but nothing unusual was spotted, added the coroner.

Giving a statement after the conclusion of the inquest solicitor Terry Wilcox, representing the family, said on their behalf: "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.

Tragic Nicola Bulley (PA)

"We now need to be allowed time to comprehend all of the events leading up to this day. The last few months have been extremely tough to process for our family. The emotional impact will stay long in our hearts and whilst we will never forget the loss of our Nikki, we will forever remember her as a brilliant mum, partner, daughter and sister that we all knew and loved so very much.

"The help and support we have received over these past few months has meant more than words can say. From family and friends to complete strangers across the country and the 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 that are filled with such kindness and love.

"Sadly, we feel the need to again raise and address the issue of social media. It's upsetting that we've continued to receive negative targeted messages and still wildly inaccurate speculation is being shared on numerous platforms."

Lancashire Constabulary's head of crime, Detective Chief Superintendent Pauline Stables, said in a statement: "I want to start by saying that first and foremost my thoughts today are with Nikki’s family and loved ones.

The River Wyre (Lancs Live/Jude Tolson)

"They have been through the most unimaginable ordeal over the last six months and I can only hope that this inquest will help in some small way by answering some of the questions they had about what happened to Nikki on January 27, and will allow them to start the process of rebuilding their lives as best as they can.

"I would like to thank Dr Adeley for his careful consideration of the evidence presented to this inquest as well as legal counsel, and all of the witnesses for their participation. 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."

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