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One of the country’s leading authorities on crime in the UK has laid bare the five possible theories police will be considering as the search for missing mum Nicola Bulley enters its seventh day. The mother-of-two from Inskip, Lancashire, vanished while walking her dog after dropping off her daughters, aged six and nine, at school last Friday morning.
David Wilson, emeritus professor of criminology at Birmingham City University, said officers are likely to be considering a number of options relating to the 45-year-old mortgage adviser.
Nicola’s mobile phone – which was dialled into a work call but was on mute with the camera switched on – was found on a bench along with her dog’s harness. The distressed animal was found by a dog walker nearby.
Today, Nicola’s desperate parents launched an emotional appeal to find their daughter and urged those who had information about her whereabouts to come forward.
Professor Wilson told Express.co.uk someone goes missing in the UK every 90 seconds in any given year and of the 180,000 people who go missing, the vast majority are found within 24 to 48 hours.
He added: “It is usually one of five things: there’s been an accident of some kind; or a suicide; or a person voluntarily goes missing, they want to get away for a completely fresh start, a different life; they have been abducted or they have been murdered.”
Lancashire Police has said their detectives do not believe any crime has been committed and are treating the incident as a missing person inquiry.
Professor Wilson explained that in the first days of the search, officers will have scoured Nicola’s social media “footprint”, searching Facebook, text messages and other digital platforms for clues as to her whereabouts and what happened.
He said: “They will build up a picture of her, not just in terms of what is known about her in public, but things which might not be known, things she was keeping to herself.
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“The key thing is we leave a digital footprint, not just in terms of mobile phone usage. We also have to withdraw money or use a credit card to buy things. They will look to see if money was withdrawn from her bank account. Would that have been bigger than expected, to go through in a day or couple of days?”
Professor Wilson, who appears in the Channel 4 series In the Footsteps of Killers, added: “There’s a belief people don’t just disappear into thin air. Sadly, we have had a lot of people who have disappeared into thin air. Let’s hope that even after a week there might be some light at the end of this particular investigation.”
A former prison governor, Professor Wilson drew parallels with past missing persons cases, including Trevaline Evans, 52, who vanished without trace from her antiques shop in 1990.
He explained: “She had a sign in her antiques shop window which said, ‘Back in five minutes’, and she has never been seen again.”
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Other missing people yet to be found are Claudia Lawrence and schoolgirl Genette Tate, who went missing while delivering newspapers in Aylesbeare, Devon in August 1978.
Professor Lawrence explained that police forces will always continue to pursue lines of enquiry in missing persons cases no matter how many years have passed.
Last year, North Yorkshire Police said they remained committed to uncovering what happened to Claudia Lawrence 13 years after she disappeared in March 2009.
The 35-year-old’s disappearance led to Claudia’s law, which allows a guardian to be appointed after 90 days or more of a person going missing. They then have the power to contact the missing person’s bank to stop direct debits and pay outstanding bills.
Nicola’s tearful father, Ernie Bulley, said her young daughters still believed it is “only a matter of time” before their mother comes home.
He told Sky: “There are two young children there waiting for their mummy to come back and we want her back obviously also, but if Nicola is out there, if she’s watching this, then all we’d like to say is ‘come home, contact the police, contact ourselves and we just want you back’.
“And they know that mummy’s missing but they know that she’s going to be coming home and everyone is looking for her so it’s only a matter of time, that they’re thinking in their minds, that she’s going to walk through that door.”
On Thursday, Lancashire Police said a potential witness, a dog walker wearing a red coat close to where Ms Bulley was last seen, had now been traced.
Meanwhile, police divers using specialist equipment were seen searching the River Wyre below where Ms Bulley’s items were found on the bench.
It came after a house near where Nicola went missing was searched.
Lancashire Police has continued to appeal to the public for help. The force describes Nicola as white, 5ft 3in, with light brown shoulder-length hair. She speaks with an Essex accent.
She was last seen wearing a long black gilet jacket with a hood, black jeans and olive-green ankle wellies. Her hair was tied into a ponytail.
Professor Wilson said the aim of any appeal is to jog people’s memories and bring to light things previously not shared with the police.
He added: “The downside of that is you often get empathy sightings, where the public are hoping they might have a solution.
“There’s also a danger in trying to keep the case in the public eye because what you’re trying to do is generate as much intelligence as you can, but then tyou have to work out what is a fruitful piece of intelligence and what is not relevant.”
Anybody who has seen Nicola, or has information about where she might be, is asked to call 101, quoting log 565 of January 30. For immediate sightings please call 999.
Key moments before Nicola went missing include:
8.50am: Ms Bulley bumps into another dog walker and briefly stopped to chat while their dogs played with one another.
8.53am: The dog walkers go their separate ways, with the acquaintance going by the river path, as Ms Bulley writes an email to her boss.
9.01am: Ms Bulley logs into a Teams call with her coworkers
9.10am: A second witness observes Ms Bulley in the distance
9.30am: The teams meeting ends
9.35am: A witness discovers her phone and Willow on a nearby bench
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