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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Mark Brown North of England correspondent

Nicola Bulley was in ‘amazing spirits’ before disappearance, inquest told

Nicola Bulley
Nicola Bulley was ‘full of beans’ after a successful and important work meeting the day before she vanished, her partner said. Photograph: Family Handout/PA

Nicola Bulley was in “amazing spirits” in the days leading up to her disappearance and looking forward to the future, an inquest has heard.

Her partner, Paul Ansell, said Bulley was in a good place and “full of beans” after a successful and important work meeting the day before she vanished. “She was in amazing spirits” and excited about her career as a mortgage broker, he said.

Ansell was speaking as an inquest in Preston also heard evidence of a “blip period” in early January, weeks before she went missing on 27 January.

Bulley was seen by a mental health professional after her family called for help on 10 January because of concerns over her drinking and her saying she did not want to be there.

Her sister Louise Cunningham told the inquest Bulley was “absolutely fuming” that an ambulance had been called. But it proved to be a “wake-up call” and she was soon back to “Nikki being Nikki”.

Bulley went missing on 27 January after dropping her children off at their school and then going on a routine dog walk with her springer spaniel, Willow.

Her phone, still connected to a Teams work call, was discovered on a bench overlooking the River Wyre. After 24 days her body was found about a mile away in the river.

The search became the focus of intense media attention with a social media frenzy of conspiracy theories drawing a panoply of online sleuths, influencers and psychics to the Lancashire village of St Michael’s on the Wyre.

Ansell said was Bulley was “an incredible mum” whose main focus in life was her two daughters.

He broke down in tears and had to take a break as he described Bulley as someone who was a planner and a quiet person who enjoyed nothing more than a family walk and a nice meal out.

She had stopped drinking after the ambulance callout and “everything was back to normal”, Ansell said.

The coroner, James Adeley, asked Ansell if Bulley had any suicidal thoughts, to which replied: “There were a couple of throwaway comments during the blip period but nothing that gave me any concern.”

Cunningham described Bulley’s dog as her “third child” and said there was no way she would intentionally leave it by itself.

“Nikki was my big sister,” she said. “She started her career again, a busy mum, as most people are, juggling a career and family life.”

The police search for Bulley was a huge operation involving divers, drones and helicopters as well as the contacting of about 700 drivers captured on CCTV to ask them for dashcam footage.

As the days passed and speculation continued online, Lancashire police revealed Bulley had struggled with alcohol problems because of the menopause. This prompted widespread criticism with commentators and campaigners accusing police of sexism.

After Bulley was found her family released a statement criticising the media and members of the public who “misquoted and vilified friends and family”.

Day one of the inquest heard pathological evidence that Bulley died from drowning in the River Wyre. The cold water shock meant she could have lost life in seconds, experts said. No alcohol was found in her system and there was no evidence of third party harm.

Two witnesses also described hearing a short, inhaling scream on the morning of Bulley’s death.

Adeley said that it was not the job of the inquest to look into Lancashire police operational matters or explore social media theories.

An independent review of the police response in the Bulley case has been commissioned from the College of Policing. It will look into the investigation and search; communication and public engagement; and the release of personal information.

Additional security has been in place for the inquest because of “substantial social media involvement” in the case and some of the “unusual commentary” people said they were planning to express, the coroner said.

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