Swimmers walk through river where police think Nicola Bulley vanished

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Wild swimmers say the stretch of river where Nicola Bulley vanished is shallow enough to walk. It comes after police doubled down at a press conference today that their “main working hypothesis” is she fell into the water. An open water coach has revealed the River Wyre swims are often called “swalks”, a mix of a swim and a walk, because swimmers can stand up as often as they have to swim. Bob Hudson, from Garstang, Lancs, uses a sandy area where Ms Bulley was pictured with her dog Willow to introduce novices to the open water hobby. After 19 days of searches, no trace of Ms Bulley has been found.

Mr Hudson said although he never calls any river “safe” the River Wyre is often so calm and shallow he uses it for “dipping” sessions for novices and says even beginners can often swim upstream against the flow.

The swimming coach has often swum past the last known location of Ms Bulley and the bench where her mobile phone and dog lead and harness were found.

There has been no trace of the 45-year-old mum-of-two since she went missing walking by the Wyre on January 27. Lancashire Police have been working on the theory she fell into the water.

Mr Hudson’s observations about the waterway seem to chime with those of dive expert Peter Faulding, who since assisting police with underwater searches has said if Ms Bulley was in the river she would have been found by now.

In wild swimming, a marathon-length is 10km and Mr Hudson said he “swalks” the route from Garstang to St Michael’s on Wyre, where Ms Bulley disappeared, as it is a very similar distance.

He said: “From Garstang to St Michael’s just where the bridge is, just on the far side of it is 10.1km. I’ve swum that distance a couple of times now. When I’ve done the marathon swim, we ended up calling it a “swalk” because we did more walking than we did swimming.

“It’s really strange, for me if there is a person in that water you would have found them by now and they wouldn’t have gone far.

“Where the bench is, you stay on the embarkment and walk up about 200 metres. There is a hidden beach, one of the pictures of Nicola that has been focused on is a picture of her dog coming out of the river with a tennis ball.

“Over the last few years, we’ve been using that area as a dipping spot, I take people there for little trips, I’ve done some sunrise early dips there and some beginners courses. That’s the area where we normally would go in because there’s a little beach there with five or six metres of sand, it’s nice on your feet and it’s what we call ‘easy in, easy out’.

“It’s about 1.6 metres deep but within another four or five metres going downstream, you can stand up. That river has a lot of corners in it and some of it almost comes back on itself. I won’t use the word safe with a river, people can drown in a puddle, but that river ticks all the boxes for beginners, it’s easy flowing, it’s not overly wide so you can get to the edge.”

Mr Hudson said the river level does rise with rainfall but he said when Nicola went missing there had been four or five days of dry weather.

He said: “The flow rate (of the river) was normal, I would happily have taken swimmers in there that were a novice level at that time that could turn upstream and swim up the river.

“Personal note for me would be if she has gone in where the bench is, the embankment there is very steep, but there would be some kind of slip marks.

“If she had clothing on. if she has fallen in and gone in unconscious, for me the flow of the water would have taken her around a little bit but she wouldn’t have floated off very far.

“Only 100 metres downstream is the weir, it’s not a very big weir, probably about three-foot tall. In between the assumed entry point for Nicola, there is the weir then the metal footbridge and the road bridge. It’s not deep.”

Mr Hudson said it would be interesting to know if the police had investigated a brick “pump house” along the route of the river path Ms Bulley would have taken.

He said: “It’s a brick block building, it’s got two little steps going up to it. It’s all boarded up, I think it’s an old pumping station to do with the water levels.

“It’s derelict, but I’m just thinking have they looked and searched in there? Where the weir is there’s another little building, or “pumping station”, next to it as well. I can’t begin to imagine the feelings of her poor partner and the children and family left behind.”

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At a press conference at Lancashire Police HQ, Senior investigating officer Detective Supt Rebecca Smith said: “As soon as she was reported missing, following the information that was provided to the police by her partner Paul, and based on a number of specific vulnerabilities that we were made aware of, Nicola was graded as high-risk.

“That is normal in a missing person investigation with the information we were in possession of. As any senior investigating officer does, you form a number of hypotheses, that is scenarios which are possible from the information to hand.

“Those hypotheses included the one that she possibly could have gone into the river, that there could have been third-party involvement and lastly, that she could have left the area voluntarily.

“Those hypotheses have remained in place throughout, and are reviewed regularly.

“At the initial stages based on the information I received, I made it clear that it was my working hypothesis at that time based with all the facts that the main hypothesis I was working on at that time was that Nicola had gone in the river.

“This has been misconstrued in the press and said that that was what I said. I said that was my main working hypothesis at that time, and that remains my main working hypothesis. I think it’s clear to see that the amount of effort, hours worked, resources that we’ve put into this investigation that we have always been open-minded. Those three hypotheses and scenarios have been continually reviewed, and continue to do so to this day.”

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