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08th Feb 2023

Expert team end search for Nicola Bulley declaring she’s not in the water

‘We are happy there is nothing in the area where Nicola’s phone was found’

The head of the expert diving team leading the search for Nicola Bulley has called it off his team’s search operation to declare she is not in the water.

It comes the day after police said it was a possibility that Nicola could have left via a footpath not covered by cameras, and just hours after her partner Paul Ansell visited the location being searched.

The 45-year-old was was last seen walking her dog in St Michael’s on Wyre at 9.10am on 27 January, having earlier dropped her daughters, aged six and nine, at school. The mortgage broker’s phone was found a short time later still connected to a work call, along with the dog’s lead and harness.

Specialist Group International (SGI) were drafted in by Lancashire Police on Monday to help trawl the River Wyre, after police revealed that their main hypothesis was that she had fallen into the river.

Now, the head of the team, Paul Faulding, has called off the search, saying that the mother-of-two is not in the river, the Mail reports.

He said on Wednesday afternoon: “We are happy that the area where Nicola’s phone was found and the harness, we’ve thoroughly searched it from all the way down to the weir and up to the bridge, about a mile upstream, and we’ve confirmed to Paul that there’s nothing in that area.

“It’s been searched by police dive teams three times and on the day that Nicola went missing it was dived in the afternoon, with no sign of Nicola.

“I’ve worked on some weird cases, but this is a baffling case. For someone whose mobile phone was found there, and I would’ve expected Nicola to be found that afternoon by the police dive team, normally down in the water, but there was no sign of her.”

Just hours before the announcement, Ansell visited the scene alongside Faulding, who appeared to be talking him through aspects of his team’s search.

They were also joined by a police officer and Emma White, a family friend of Bulley.

Two police dinghies with divers were seen setting off from the riverbank and going upstream to continue the search, the Metro reports.

On Tuesday evening, police reaffirmed that they were still treating Bulley’s disappearance as a missing persons case and rejected suggestions that any criminal activity was involved.

Supt Sally Riley, of Lancashire Police, said “every single” potentially suspicious element that had come in had been investigated by detectives and discounted.

She said: “I would like to reassure the community that nothing in this investigation so far, it has been checked out if it has come in suggesting crime, it has been checked and discounted. So every single potential third party line of inquiry and potential suspicious or criminal element has been looked at and discounted.

“It does remain our belief that Nicola sadly fell into the river and that this is a missing persons inquiry.”

But Supt Riley said investigators were also considering the “possibility” that Bulley left the area by a path which is not covered by cameras. The path is crossed by the main road through the village, so officers are trying to trace dashcam footage from 700 drivers who passed along the road at the time she disappeared, the Daily Post reports.

Earlier in the week, Faulding had to rule out “third party” involvement in Bulley’s disappearance.

On Tuesday morning, he was asked what his “gut feeling” was after more than one week of searching has failed to find the mother-of-two.

He replied: “If Nicola is not in that stretch of river today my view is that there could be a third party and that [the phone] was a decoy placed by the river.”

Faulding had previously said that “everything is pointing” to Bulley having fallen in the river, and that he didn’t believe a third party was involved.

After his team was assigned to the case, Faulding had said they would find Bulley “straight away” if she was indeed in the river.

He has also previously suggested that the phone could have been a “decoy.”

Supt Riley told reporters at a press conference though that Faulding was not included in all the details of the investigation.

She said: “Our search has not found Nicola in the river and then a re-search in parts by SGI has found the same.

“That does not mean… that Nicola has not been in the river. In the light of other inquiries being discounted from the investigation so far… clearly our main belief is that Nicola did fall into the river.

“Mr Faulding isn’t included within all the investigation detail any more than the members of the public are that I’m briefing through these sorts of press conferences.”