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A dive expert who carried out a search of the River Wyre has said he remains baffled over what happened to Nicola Bulley whose body was found in a “sonar blindspot”. Ms Bulley’s body was found in reeds on Sunday after she went missing while walking her dog on January 27 from an area around the River Wyre in Lancashire.
Peter Faulding said on Monday he would not be the “fall guy” after the mum-of-two’s body was found. During searches of the Wyre, he insisted Ms Bulley, 45, was not in the water.
Online trolls have been targeting Mr Faulding as well as Ms Bulley’s partner, Paul Ansell, whose Pinterest account was hacked.
Critics of the police investigation have also asked why it took 23 days for Ms Bulley’s body to be discovered.
Mr Faulding, CEO of Search Group International (SGI), told Express.co.uk: “This is not a blame game for anybody. We searched. The police were there for three weeks. Our remit was not the reeds, it was under the water.
“I don’t regret doing it. I will always go to help families in need.”
He added: “This is a baffling case. The most baffling aspect is at the bottom of the bank there was only two feet of water on the day Nicola went missing.
“She would have landed on rocks if she had slipped in. The current was not heavy enough to take her over the weir. A lot of people agree on that.”
The section of river near where Nicola’s phone was found was non-tidal. Over a nearby weir, it becomes a tidal river, meaning it flows faster. Ms Bulley’s body was found downstream in the tidal section.
Mr Faulding said: “Tidal rivers are very difficult to search because of the reeds, things get washed in and out.
“It’s easy to criticise the police or anything, but as a river rises, things can get moved around and dislodge. What happened to Nicola is still a mystery.
“The family now need to be able to grieve in peace without criticism from anybody. It’s causing a lot of upset. The speculation needs to stop so the family can be left alone to grieve.”
READ ABOUT A WILD SWIMMER SAYING NICOLA BULLEY DID NOT ENTER THE WATER
He added: “Nicola was in the reeds. She was not in the river. She was not lying on the bottom of the river.
“The police had high-frequency side-scan sonar. They were scanning constantly. After three weeks they did not find her in the river either.
“There were officers searching along the river banks.
“SGI spent four hours searching the lower section of the river, two days around the bench and at the top end of the river.”
Mr Faulding said: “The reeds act as a blindspot for the sonar because soundwaves from the towfish [side scan sonar system] cannot penetrate. It’s like hitting a brick wall.”
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SGI and Lancashire Constabulary used the same high frequency side-scan sonar which picks up things in the water.
Side scan sonar can search large areas of water quickly and scan out to 30 metres either side of a boat in searches.
Mr Faulding said: “A sonar will never look through reeds. It gives a crystal clear image of the river bed. If the body had been in the river, it would have appeared in the scan.
“If Nicola was in the river, we would have found her, guaranteed.”
SGI’s brief given by the police was to carry out a sonar search of the river, according to Mr Faulding.
Five men were involved in SGI’s search which was carried out for free.
SGI carries out searches for forces covering Kent, Essex, Surrey, Sussex, Thames Valley and Hampshire.
Mr Faulding, who introduced high-frequency side scan sonar to the UK in 1999, said: “We went up there to help. We’re not amateurs.”
The company found Harwell teenager Ellis Downs in the River Thames in 2016 and searched for April Jones, who went missing from her home in Wales in 2012, free of charge. Its work also led to the discovery of the Scottish serial killer Peter Tobin.
Mr Faulding’s expertise has also been sought by the FBI’s training school in Quantico, Virginia as well as the US Secret Service.
SGI recovers an average of 10 drowning victims and suicides a year, Mr Faulding said.
At a press conference on Monday, Lancashire Constabulary did not disclose why it took 23 days to find Ms Bulley’s body in the River Wyre.
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