Full independent review commissioned into police handling of Nicola Bulley case
A “full independent review” is set to be carried out by the College of Policing into Lancashire Police’s handling of the Nicola Bulley case, the county’s police and crime commissioner said.
Conservative PCC Andrew Snowden said the public “understandably feel that there remain questions about the handling of elements of the police investigation, how it was communicated and the decision to release personal information”.
The force said it “welcomes the independent review”, adding that it is “keen to take the opportunity to learn”.
Mr Snowden was speaking after the police watchdog launched an investigation into a welfare check conducted by a Lancashire Constabulary officer at Ms Bulley’s family home days before she went missing.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said it was notified that an officer visited the address to conduct the check on January 10.
In a statement, the IOPC said the investigation was in its “very early stages”.
The 45-year-old’s body was pulled from the River Wyre in Lancashire on Sunday, more than three weeks after she was last seen on January 27.
On Wednesday, an inquest opening heard that the mother-of-two was identified by her dental records.
Lancashire Police have faced widespread criticism since Ms Bulley went missing – and at a press conference on Monday they did not address the backlash.
MPs and campaign groups voiced their disapproval after the force elected to put elements of her private life into the public domain during the search – including her struggles with alcohol and perimenopause.
At Monday’s media briefing, police also did not disclose the reasons it had taken 23 days to find her body in the river.
The Information Commissioner’s Office said it has made initial inquiries with the force to understand “the reasoning which led to the disclosure” of Ms Bulley’s personal information.
“We will assess the information provided to consider whether any further action is necessary,” a spokeswoman said.
Mr Snowden said the independent review would have three clear areas of focus: investigation and search, communication and public engagement, and the releasing of personal information.
The Constabulary is keen to take the opportunity to learn and welcomes the independent review that the Police and Crime Commissioner has asked the College of Policing to conduct.Our thoughts remain foremost with Nicola's family at this time.More here: https://t.co/2IFjA3fb4E
— Lancashire Police (@LancsPolice) February 22, 2023
In his statement announcing his intention to commission a review, Mr Snowden said: “The public understandably feel that there remain questions about the handling of elements of the police investigation, how it was communicated and the decision to release personal information, which need to be answered and explained.
“In my role as commissioner, as the public’s voice in policing in Lancashire, I also need to put in place the appropriate scrutiny to seek the right assurances and to ensure I am effectively holding the Constabulary to account.
“I have therefore taken the decision to commission a full independent review into the handling of this case, with clearly defined terms of reference, to ensure lessons can be learned, not just for Lancashire, but for all forces.
“This includes how such cases can be best investigated and communicated under such spotlight and scrutiny.”
The Conservative PCC said the review should take place due to “the amount of misinformation on social media, poorly-informed opinions given national airtime, the attacks on senior leaders’ personal appearance and family lives, along with the intrusion into the privacy of Nicola’s family.”
“I am sure there will be lessons to be learned for Lancashire Constabulary, the broader policing sector and others from this case, as there are from most major investigations, and I will keep the public informed of the findings in due course,” Mr Snowden said.
At Ms Bulley’s inquest opener, Preston Coroner’s Court was told maxillofacial surgeon Andrew Ian Edwards had examined her dental records, which had been obtained by police from her dental surgery.
Senior coroner Dr James Adeley said: “He examined the body that was located in the River Wyre near Rawcliffe Road in St Michael’s on Wyre at 2.15pm on February 20.”
Dr Adeley said the surgeon found restorative work carried out was identical.
He added: “I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities, and more, that positive identification has been made.”
The hearing, which lasted about five minutes, was not attended by Ms Bulley’s partner Paul Ansell or any other family.
Dr Adeley said: “The family have been informed of the date, time and place of the opening of the inquest and have chosen not to attend for reasons I can quite understand.”
He said remaining evidence gathered by police and the post-mortem examination require “further evaluation”, and a full inquest is likely to be held in June, once availability of a Home Office pathologist had been checked.
“This will allow time to collate the facts of the case and allow the experts involved to finalise the findings from investigations that still need to be undertaken,” the coroner said.
Ms Bulley’s family said in a statement on Monday that they can let her “rest now” following the discovery of her body.
It is understood the independent review will supersede the internal review announced by the force last week.