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16th Feb 2023

Nicola Bulley diving expert reveals crucial information that would have changed how he searched for missing mum

Steve Hopkins

‘Absolutely outrageous’

A diving expert drafted in to help search for Nicola Bulley has slammed police for not telling him sooner that she was “high-risk” because of issues with alcohol, saying it would have changed his tactics.

On Wednesday, Lancashire Police took the unusual step of revealing that the mum-of-two, who has been missing since January 27, had been classified as “high-risk” owning to “a number of specific vulnerabilities”. After initially refusing to elaborate, the force released a statement saying Nicola had, “in the past suffered with some significant issues with alcohol which were brought on by her ongoing struggles with the menopause and that these struggles had resurfaced over recent months.”

Lancashire Police further detailed how officers had made a house call at Nicola’s home the week before her disappearance to check on her welfare.

Peter Faulding, of Specialist Group International, joined the search for the 45-year-old for three days, using specialist equipment to comb the River Wyre where the mum-of-two went missing while walking her dog.

He has now said that it is “absolutely outrageous” the information about Nicola’s alcohol use was not shared with his team before they set out.

The last sighting of Nicola was at 9.10am, some 20 days ago. Lancashire Police’s “main working hypothesis” is that she accidentally fell into the river, but no trace of her has been found. Her phone, still connected to a work call, and the dog’s lead and harness, were found a short time later. Nicola’s dog, a cocker spaniel called Willow, was earlier found wandering, which led to police being called.

Faulding said the new information means Nicola was more likely to have been swept out to sea or to have walked off somewhere.

He said normally he “would normally be given that information to make my job easier and deploy the appropriate resources to do that search”.

Faulding’s comments haven’t sat well with everyone, the Birmingham Mail reported. David Banks – a legal and media expert – wrote on Twitter: “How would it have changed your strategy?”

Dr Shola asked: “What difference would alcoholic issues & menopause have made to you finding Nicola Bulley in the river? You either find her in river or not.”

Faulding was also critical of police for releasing the information at all, with the force’s statement on Wednesday sparking considerable unease.

Former detective Martyn Underhill told Sky News that Lancashire Police had “completely destroyed” Nicola’s reputation and questioned why they were releasing it now. Underhill said he had never “seen such a level of detail” released in a missing persons case. And former chief crown prosecutor for the North West, Nazir Afzal, said the statement “should not have been issued” as it gives “fuel to the victim blamers, armchair sleuths & conspiracy theorists”.

Following his initial search, Faulding insisted there is “no sign” that the mortgage advisor is in the stretch of river police believe she fell in. But he has now noted that a high-risk missing person could be suicidal and that Nicola may have been “disoriented” at the time of her disappearance.

Based on the new information, Faulding said he would have “extended his search even further upstream”.

Other evidence, such as whisky bottles, would have been searched for, he told The Mirror.

Alternatively, Nicola may have just “walked off somewhere”, the specialist said, saying it is possible for people to walk away from their life before re-appearing some time later.

Faulding has also questioned what other information officers are holding back, asking: “Do they [police] know something else again that they are not telling us?”

Nicola vanished after dropping off her daughters, aged six and nine, at school, and heading out for a walk in St Michael’s on Wyre. Police have regularly said they have no evidence to suggest third-party involvement in Nicola’s disappearance.

The force on Wednesday acknowledged it is “an unusual step for us to take to go into this level of detail about someone’s private life”.

“But we felt it was important to clarify what we meant when we talked about vulnerabilities to avoid any further speculation or misinterpretation”, they added.

“We have explained to Nicola’s family why we have released this further information and we would ask that their privacy is respected at this difficult time.”

“There is no evidence to indicate a criminal aspect or third-party involvement, they reiterated.

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