Seven questions still unanswered in Nicola Bulley disappearance

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A former top detective has asked a number of key questions around the disappearance of mother-of-two Nicola Bulley as police continue to search the River Wyre and mouth of the estuary with a “main working hypothesis” she fell into the water. Ms Buley has not been seen since Friday January 27 when she went missing after dropping her children at school and setting off to walk her dog Willow in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancs. The only trace of the 45-year-old mortgage advisor has been her mobile phone, a dog lead and dog harness left on a bench by the river. Willow was also found. Writing in the Mirror former Metropolitan Police Detective Chief Inspector Peter Kirkham has put forward a number of key questions he believes need to be answered.

Mr Kirkham writes: “As the investigation approaches its third week, experienced detectives will have realised that this case is not going to be easily solved. In many major investigations the enquiry team know at least the main facts within the first week or two, if not sooner.

“Of course there is always lots more work to do, knitting it all together and filling in any gaps, but, broadly speaking, officers know what happened. There are always the “exceptions which prove the rule” – the cases which take longer, sometimes very much longer, to get to grips with and understand.”


1. If Nicola did end up in the river, where and when would she surface and would it be likely that she would be spotted?

Detectives will have taken expert evidence from academics and others who spend their lives studying the movement of water and its impact on items such as a body which are in it.

This is a hugely complex area, and there are many unknown (and unknowable) factors in play. As a result the information given to officers will not be particularly reliable or precise. In most cases, a body will emerge within about five to ten days, but the margin for error is large.

As a result the police will need to keep searching and re-searching a very long stretch of the River Wyre for some time. The investigators will be desperate not to miss the body if it does emerge as they know it will be critical to the case.

As we know from the many, many stories of loyal dogs staying with their owners when they have fallen ill or died, as a general rule they won’t go far. They will wait near the point they last saw their owner.

Experts in canine behaviour will be able to give an estimate of how reliable this information is likely to be in this particular case.

I expect officers will conclude that Nicola disappeared near the bench where Willow was found, with Willow simply not seeing where she went and so staying around that spot. This is likely to be crucial in assessing the different hypotheses.

3. Could Nicola simply have walked out of the riverside area around the bench by herself?

Police have said there are only three paths, with two covered by CCTV, but how good is that footage? Could she have slipped out unseen?

The fact Willow was still there suggests it is reasonable to conclude she didn’t leave the area, but just how reliable is the actual evidence?

4. How reliable are the witness accounts saying they saw Nicola in that riverside area?

There are at least two witnesses who seem to have actually known Nicola to some extent. These accounts would presumably be confirmed to some extent by at least a small part of the CCTV footage.

This makes things more reliable and, of course, Willow was found there and who but Nicola would have taken her into the area. This will be amongst the most reliable facts and will be a key part of the foundation of the investigation.

5. Can the technical evidence from Nicola’s phone, especially that around the time it was put on the bench, be relied upon?

To be honest, I would view the information with a critical eye. Technical data (from any source) is notorious for being potentially misleading as systems are so complex that few, if any, technicians and engineers know precisely how all data is gathered and processed within the system.

Personally I would not consider this information particularly reliable and would seek corroboration from other sources if at all possible.

6. Was there anyone else in Nicola’s life who may have influenced her and how events developed?

Very many of us have secret aspects to our lives that are not fully known to those closest to us. Police will be scrutinising every aspect of Nicola’s life going back months or even years. It is essential they know literally everything there is to know.

7. Finally, and perhaps most crucially of all, the investigators will need to know whether there is any chance that Nicola was removed from the riverside area by a third party.

They will consider whether any detailed pre-planning could have made this possible and whether Nicola may have been persuaded to leave with them by some subterfuge.

The police clearly currently believe this could not have happened but, if it could be done in some way it would reinvigorate the hypothesis that Nicola was taken and suddenly the potential involvement of a third party for malicious or other reasons is back on the table.”

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