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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Donna Ferguson

Nicola Bulley: watchdog not currently planning to investigate press coverage

Nicola Bulley.
Nicola Bulley’s disappearance sparked a frenzy of conspiracy theories and dominated headlines for days Photograph: family handout

The press watchdog has said it has no plans to conduct an investigation into newspaper coverage of the disappearance of Nicola Bulley but has not ruled it out at a later stage.

The 45-year-old mortgage broker became one of the most high-profile missing people in living history when she vanished in January after dropping off her daughters, six and nine, at school and taking her usual walk with her dog beside the River Wyre in Lancashire.

A coroner concluded on Tuesday that Bulley’s death was accidental and she had drowned after falling into a cold river.

Her disappearance sparked a frenzy of conspiracy theories and dominated headlines for days, and at the inquest her family described the past few months as “extremely tough”.

They have criticised the role that the media and social media played during the police investigation, and in February they accused the press of having “taken it upon themselves to run stories about us to sell papers and increase their own profits”.

Referring to her daughters, the family’s statement said: “It saddens us to think that one day we will have to explain to them that the press and members of the public accused their dad of wrongdoing; misquoted and vilified friends and family. This is absolutely appalling, they have to be held accountable, this cannot happen to another family.”

The chief executive of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) said the watchdog was considering the “very sad case” but was not currently planning to launch an editorial standards investigation into some of the coverage.

Charlotte Dewar told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We can conduct editorial standards investigation where there are serious and systemic breaches of the editors’ code. I think at this point on this issue we aren’t there, but we are very actively looking at it. And, of course, should it be clear that that has transpired then we would take that step.”

Offered some examples of the headlines that ran in newspapers at the time, such as “High-risk Nicola had issues with alcohol”, and “Mummy’s lost”, Dewar was asked if she was happy with that kind of coverage.

“This case raised a lot of issues about the material that was released by police and how that was covered and how that entered the public domain, and I think absolutely there’s further discussion to be had,” she said.

Pressed again about whether she was happy such headlines were not intrusions into the family’s grief and shock, Dewar said: “I think we look very specifically at individual instances of concern. We were in touch with family liaison officers who were representing the family and other public bodies involved.”

She said that at this point Ipso was not actively carrying out an investigation: “We’ve given a very clear opportunity and been very, very open that we’d like to engage with them [the family] about their concerns.”

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