Detectives handling the Nicola Bulley case made a ‘sexist’ mistake when they released information about her struggles with alcohol and the menopause, a former victims’ commissioner has said.
Dame Vera Baird said she believed Lancashire Constabulary had made a ‘dreadful error’ in disclosing the missing mother-of-two’s vulnerabilities.
She also said she is worried it will stop people making complaints in the future and wondered if such details would have been released if she was a man.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman demanded an ‘explanation’ from the force about why it publicised those details at a press conference and subsequent statement on Wednesday.
The force also came under fire from the leader of Wyre Council, who said it has ‘lessons to be learned’.
Mortgage adviser Ms Bulley vanished while walking her springer spaniel Willow in the village of St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, on January 27 after dropping her two daughters at school.
She has not been seen for three weeks.
Lancashire Police have come under heavy criticism for revealing the details about her ‘vulnerabilities’ in the weeks before her disappearance that they say made her ‘high risk’.
They later added in a statement that she had been struggling with alcohol issues and the menopause, and had stopped taking HRT medication.
Dame Vera told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I’m afraid this is the biggest error that I have seen for quite a long time. It’s going to just, you know, very sadly, to undermine trust in the police yet further.
‘I’m sure they would have explained themselves if they had an explanation… if it was relevant, it needed to be in a public domain at the start and it wasn’t. I mean, that is a really worrying error. It is frankly dreadful.
‘I’m worried about future people making complaints.
‘If one of your relatives has gone missing… and may have some weaknesses, as goodness knows we all do, then would you, first of all, go to the police at all as early as you should when you will have to tell them all the intimate details to help them with their inquiry – that’s essential.
‘But would you if it’s going to be on the front page of The Sun the next day or a week later? And if you do, will you tell them these details?’
Asked if it was an error that would have been made if the potential victim was a man, she said: ‘I do not think that it would.
‘Would we have had police officers saying, you know, if it was Nicholas, he’s been unfortunately tied down with alcohol because he’s been suffering from erectile dysfunction for the last few weeks?
‘I think not. You can hear all the senior police officers squirming as I say it, I would have thought.
‘It is a dreadful error to put this in the public domain for absolutely nothing and I’m afraid I think it’s as sexist as it comes.’
Wyre Council leader Michael Vincent told Sky News detectives have ‘done their best in difficult circumstances’ but said ‘there are lessons to be learned’.
Talking about the information on Ms Bulley revealed by police, Mr Vincent went on: ‘That was put out there with the knowledge of Nicola’s family because other people were seeking to make that information public.
‘That wasn’t the police’s decision, their hand was forced. Should they have done it? Again, with the benefit of hindsight, that should be looked into in future cases.
‘I think they have done their best in difficult circumstances.’
He also revealed people in the village where she vanished have employed an external security company because of interest in the case.
Mr Vincent added: ‘People have reported being sat in their living rooms in an afternoon watching television and people coming up to the windows, peering in, trying the doors, it’s been terrifying for them.
‘These are typically older people extremely scared in their own homes. The residents have had to employ an external security company, that’s just not acceptable.’
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