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Dan Matthews, Forensic Science Senior Lecturer at the University of Lincoln, has cast doubt over Lancashire Police’s theory Nicola Bulley fell in the River Wyre. Mr Matthews said it is quite possible Ms Bulley, 45, is not in the river.
He told Express.co.uk: “It is very difficult to know what has happened. The police are under pressure to make some form of statement as to what has happened. Some of that is done to appease people, but it does not necessarily provide that appeasement.
“Unless they are investigating something which they may have, I don’t think there is anything to support any hypothesis at this stage. But the police may not be disclosing some details for investigative purposes, and they are quite within their rights to do that.”
Ms Bulley, 45, of Inskip, Lancashire, went missing on January 27 in nearby St Michael’s on Wyre.
Mr Matthews said: “It’s quite possible she may not be in the river. All options are open at the moment… It’s tough. The family will want to know what’s happened. It’s very difficult to deal with. You have to maintain that objectivity even if it does not help one side or the other.
“It’s one of those things where it’s so open. We simply don’t know enough to make a judgement.”
In a Facebook post, Ms Bulley’s sister, Louise Cunningham, urged people to “keep an open mind” as there is “no evidence whatsoever” the dog walker fell in the river.
She said on Saturday: “Off the back of the latest Police media update, please can I add there is no evidence whatsoever that she has gone into the river, it’s just a theory.”
“Everyone needs to keep an open mind as not all CCTV and leads have been investigated fully, the police confirmed the case is far from over.”
Lancashire Police said on February 3 it was working on the hypothesis Ms Bulley may have fallen into the River Wyre.
Superintendent Sally Riley from the Constabulary urged against speculation but said it was “possible” that an “issue” with Ms Bulley’s dog may have led her to the water’s edge.
READ ABOUT A TEXT MESSAGE SENT ‘MINUTES BEFORE’ NICOLA BULLEY WENT MISSING
Officers from the North West Police Underwater and Marine support unit have already searched the area close to where Ms Bulley’s mobile phone was found, while police divers have scoured the River Wyre.
The force has searched the river and riverbank all the way to the sea, using search teams, sonar, search dogs, drone, helicopter and CCTV.
Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith of Lancashire Police said on Monday: “The team working on this investigation are completely dedicated and determined to find Nicola. As a mother myself, I can’t even begin to imagine what her two children are going through.
“Please be reassured that our sole focus is Nicola and that we are doing everything we can to find her.
“It is not possible to provide every piece of information to the public because to do so would detract from the investigation, but I’d like to thank everyone who has assisted us so far and for the support provided to Nicola’s family at this extremely difficult time. They are being supported and updated throughout.”
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Mr Matthews is not the first to question Lancashire Police’s hypothesis Ms Bulley fell in the river.
Forensics expert Peter Faulding has disputed cthe claim, arguing investigators should have found evidence by now given how long they have been searching the water for clues.
Mr Faulding, the head of private diving team Specialist Group International (SGI), said his team of experts and divers, based in Dorking, Surrey, has worked with Lancashire Police and searched “three or four miles” of river until it got dark.
He said on Monday: “It’s a negative search, no signs of Nicola.”
His team is due to scour another stretch of the river on Tuesday “towards where Nicola went originally missing”.
Mr Faulding told the BBC on Tuesday he is “very surprised” Ms Bulley has not been found in river searches.
He said: “From all my experience, I would expect a body when it goes down and drowns, to go straight down to the bottom, and remain there until the body starts to decompose and then it will start moving.”
He added that there is not enough of a current in the River Wyre, where police believe Ms Bulley may have fallen, for her to have been moved downstream on the day she went missing.
Meanwhile, Mr Matthews – who has 20 years of experience in forensics and worked on high profile cases, including Grenfell Tower and Mick Philpott, who was found guilty of causing the deaths of six of his children in 2013 – said by now he would have expected forensics experts to have gathered all “material of interest” from the scene.
He said: “The only next thing that may come along is if they find something that would suggest a particular sequence of events. The obvious thing they need to find is a body.”
On the scene, he added: “It’s the kind of scene I would not want to stick my neck out on… Maybe they haven’t found anything specific, but the absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. I’m sure the police will be keeping an open mind.
“As a forensic scientist, you are under a lot of pressure, but without evidence to support a hypothesis, you can’t pull a rabbit out of the hat.”
He described the scene where Ms Bulley went missing as the number one problem for investigators due to the fact it is so open to the elements and has been accessible to the public.
Mr Matthews said: “It is outdoors. Fragile evidence will be at risk. This time of year it will be a real challenge to get stuff.”
He said Ms Bulley’s mobile phone will be a vital piece of evidence, but suggested any evidence from the body of her springer spaniel, Willow, would be treated with caution because it could be difficult to date any soil or fibres on the dog.
On why Ms Bulley’s mobile phone was left behind, he said: “It’s not something you’re really able to make a judgement on. It’s circumstantial. There might be fingerprints of other people on it, DNA on there as well. The phone will be a source of interest. She might just have put it down.”
Paul Ansell, her partner, meanwhile said in a statement: “This has been such a tough time for the girls especially but also for me and all of Nicola’s family and friends, as well as the wider community and I want to thank them for their love and support.
“We are also really grateful to Peter and his team from SGI for coming up and helping support the work of Lancashire Police as they continue their investigation.”
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