Nicola Bulley cause of death: Dog walker died in tragic accident, coroner rules

The dog walker and mother-of-two died from drowning, an inquest has ruled

Police appear to be focusing their search for Nicola Bulley on the river, but a former police officer says they shouldn't rule out other possibilities.
An inquest into the death of Nicola Bulley has entered its second day. (Lancashire Constabulary / SWNS.C)
  • A coroner has ruled Nicola Bulley drowned after falling into cold water

  • A verdict of suicide has therefore not been reached

  • On Tuesday, her partner, Paul Ansell, broke down in tears while giving evidence

  • He said he believed she fell into the river while putting on their dog's harness

  • Her sister, Louise Cunningham, said she had called mental health authorities several weeks before (Read more here)

  • Bulley's GP said there was no indiction she was suicidal prior to her disappearance.

  • The 45-year-old's disappearance in January sparked a three-week hunt before her body was found in the River Wyre in Lancashire 

  • When did Nicola Bulley go missing? Read full timeline of her disappearance

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Nicola Bulley’s family have hit out at “wildly inaccurate speculation” about her death on social media as a coroner found she drowned after accidentally falling into cold water.

Ms Bulley, 45, vanished after dropping off her daughters, six and nine, at school, and taking her usual dog walk along the River Wyre in St Michael’s, Lancashire, on January 27.

Dr James Adeley, senior coroner for Lancashire, concluding the inquest into her death at County Hall, Preston, on Tuesday, recorded her death as accidental as she fell into the river and suffered “cold water shock”, and said there was “no evidence” to suggest suicide.

Speaking after, Ms Bulley’s family criticised the role social media played following her disappearance.

Terry Wilcox, of Hudgell Solicitors, which represented the family, said in a statement: “It’s upsetting that we’ve continued to receive negative targeted messages and still witness wildly inaccurate speculation being shared over numerous platforms

“We encourage people to look at the facts, the evidence which has been heard during the inquest, and the conclusion reached by the Coroner, to ignore any amateur views and opinions, and be mindful of the impact words bring.”

The family also said the “emotional impact will stay long in our hearts” and that they will “never get over the loss of our Nikki”.

The statement went on: “The help and support we have received over these few months has meant more than words can say. From family and friends, to complete strangers across the country and world, thank you.

“Nikki and Paul’s girls have already taken great comfort in the deeply thoughtful gifts sent to them in goodwill, and in time they will read the many cards which are filled with such kindness and love.”

Lancashire Constabulary’s head of crime Detective Chief Superintendent Pauline Stables said: “I hope that His Majesty’s Coroner’s clear and definitive findings will put an end to ill-informed speculation and conspiracy theories which have been so damaging to Nikki’s family and the community of St Michael’s.

“I would like to finish by bringing this back to Nikki. She was clearly a much-loved mum, partner, daughter, sister and friend.

“I would once again express my deepest sympathy to all her loved ones and I would ask that their privacy is respected at this time to allow them the time and space to rebuild and to heal.”

Her partner, Paul Ansell, and sister, Louise Cunningham, along with her parents Ernest and Dorothy Bulley were all tearful as they gave evidence on Tuesday.

Ms Bulley was described as being a “great daughter, sister and mother”.

Dr Adeley said “there was no indication” she had intended to take her own life.

He added: “Her behaviour in the week before hear death was back to normal, she had restarted her HRT therapy, stopped drinking some time before, was making plans for play dates and spa days with several people, was becoming increasingly successful at her new career as a mortgage broker and behaved entirely normally during her parents visit of the night before and with Paul Ansell on the morning of her death.

“The circumstances found after her death would also be extremely unusual for suicide where Nikki left Willow, a dog to who she was devoted and was described as a third child, alone on the river bank.”

Dr Adeley said Ms Bulley was last seen alive at 9.10am by a fellow dog walker and at 9.18am adjusted the volume on her iPhone as she was on a works Teams call for her job as a mortgage broker.

Her Fitbit watch at 9:22am recorded a significant spike in heart rate, a feature of cold water shock and recorded no more steps after 9.30am.

Three minutes later a dog walker found the iPhone on the bench and Ms Bulley’s dog Willow, running loose.

Dr Adeley said: “In summary, Nikki was last seen alive at approximately 9.10am, interacted with her phone at 9.18am when she adjusted the volume and Mrs Fletcher found Willow with no one in sight at 9.33am

“This provides a maximum window of time of 15 minutes between the last known point that Nikki was alive and when she was not present in the area of the bench.”

Dr Adeley said evidence about the River Wyre showed the area around the bench was above a steep grassed slope, with an “almost vertical drop” to the water with no footholds to climb out of the water and the flow of the river that day making it almost impossible to swim against the current.

The coroner concluded, on the evidence of Professor Mike Tipton and Dr Paddy Morgan, both drowning experts, that Ms Bulley would have lost consciousness within around 30 seconds such was the low temperature of the river and the effects of cold water shock on the body.

The coroner also ruled-out any suspicious or third party involvement in Ms Bulley’s death and cited the extensive police investigation and analysis of CCTV.

He added: “Consequently, there is no evidence to support that a third party was involved in Nikki’s death.”

Dr Adeley said the evidence was not sufficient for him to conclude what occurred that led Ms Bulley to enter the water, but ruled out suicide, saying there was “an absence of evidence” to support that finding.

An independent review of Lancashire Police’s handling of the case is currently under way by the College of Policing, ordered by Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Andrew Snowden.