Calls for police review as agonising wait goes on for Nicola Bulley family
The family of Nicola Bulley was suffering more agony on Monday as a forensic examination of the body found in the River Wyre continued — amid calls for a review of the way Lancashire police handles high-profile cases.
The police force was waiting for the findings of a detailed scientific analysis of the female body, which was spotted in the river by two walkers about a mile from where Ms Bulley disappeared more than three weeks ago, before confirming whether it is hers.
Police have yet to give any indication of the cause of death, amid speculation that it could be some time before what happened is fully understood. A man and a woman out walking a dog yesterday called police after seeing a body in a reed bed in a part of the Wyre which had already been searched. Officers arrived and found the body soon after.
Ms Bulley’s partner, Paul Ansell, said the discovery left him with “no words right now, just agony”.
The only information issued by police so far is that the death of the woman found in the river is being treated as “unexplained” and that Ms Bulley’s family “have been informed of developments and our thoughts are with them at this most difficult of times”.
The discovery of the body comes more than three weeks after Ms Bulley’s disappearance on 27 January while walking her dog Willow by the river near the home she shared with Mr Ansell and the couple’s two daughters, aged six and nine, in St Michael’s on Wyre in Lancashire.
She was last seen at 9.10am that day and her mobile phone, still connected to a work conference call, was found on a bench beside a steep river bank.
Police began an investigation and warned days later that they feared she had fallen into the river but failed to find her in the water despite searches by police divers and a team of private divers.
Speculation about Ms Bulley’s fate and the reason for her disappearance raged on social media to add to the suffering of her family and friends, while police expressed concern about the activities of amateur investigators around the area where she vanished.
Police also came under fire for disclosing last week that Ms Bulley, 45, had problems with alcohol and was struggling to cope with the menopause - with Home Secretary Suella Braverman asking for an explanation of their decision to release the information.
Further criticism has erupted since the body’s discovery over the failure to find it sooner in a part of the river that had already been searched.
A former Lancashire Police chief superintendent, Bob Eastwood, defended the force’s investigation, however, amid what he described a “an absolute onslaught” of criticism, but suggested that the case should lead to changes in the way that police handle such high profile investigations in future
He told the BBC that the river is tidal and fast flowing and that it was possible that it might not have been there when the search was conducted.
“The way the tide comes and goes…it is possible that the body could have flowed in and flowed out and has eventually been given up by the water”, he said.
“To jump in…and automatically assume that the body was there the whole time is a step too far.”
Mr Eastwood added: “I think it’s a watershed moment in how policing going forward deals not only with the onslaught of communications and the interest of media organisations, but it’s the ones that do not represent media organisations, that purport to be, and the other of course is the use of so-called specialists who I think in this case imposed themselves on the investigation and Nicola’s family, and I’m hoping their consciences are currently in overdrive.”
He said the way some beyond the police had behaved in the investigation had “actually fed into a lot of people’s obsession” and added: “Only yesterday there were people purporting to be the media that quite clearly weren’t and they were climbing over the fence to take pictures of the body that the police were recovering. This is something else.”
Helen King, a former Met assistant commissioner, also called for a review so that police could learn how to better handle future high-profile cases
“In all these cases, and the police deal with hundreds of thousands of missing person incidents every year, the police have to make the right assessment, have to make the right judgement, they don’t have the benefit of hindsight, and of course they hold information that very properly none of the rest of us have,” she said.
“One of the disappointing things about this case is the speed with which all sorts of people, including journalists and including politicians, have jumped in to criticise when they haven’t known the whole picture.
“It’s clearly been a difficult case and managing the media and social media and public interest is a part of these cases, but it is not easy and I think it’s right that the time for review is once this case is clearer and that review should be done by someone who can have access to information that police had at each stage.”