Nicola Bulley: 8 key developments and updates from the past week

Nicola Bulley. (PA)
Nicola Bulley has been missing for three weeks. (PA) (PA)

What’s happening: Friday marked the three-week anniversary of mother-of-two Nicola Bulley’s disappearance.

The police search for the missing 45-year-old comes amid a growing political storm over Lancashire Police’s decision to share intimate details about the high-risk status of Bulley.

The force made a “dreadful” and “sexist” error when it released the information about her struggles with alcohol and the menopause, the former victims’ commissioner Dame Vera Baird said on Friday. She also expressed worry it will stop people making complaints in the future - and wondered if such details would have been released if she was a man.

Now read more for a breakdown of the key developments from an extraordinary week:

1. Tuesday: Local councillors’ contact details removed after ‘abuse’

Wyre Council, the local authority which covers the St Michael's on Wyre village where Bulley went missing on 27 January, removed councillors’ contact details from its website after “inappropriate emails and phone calls”.

Leader Michael Vincent said “we will not tolerate any form of abuse”. Two people were later arrested on suspicion of sending malicious communications.

PRESTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 15: An aerial view of Blackpool Lane in St Michaels on Wyre, which was not covered by CCTV on the day that Nicola Bulley went missing, on February 15, 2023 in Preston, England. Police are continuing to look for the missing woman, Nicola Bulley, 45, who disappeared while walking her dog along the banks of the River Wyre on Saturday, Jan 27. In a press conference held this morning, Lancashire police said Bulley is a
Villagers living in St Michaels on Wyre have been thrust into the spotlight. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images) (Christopher Furlong via Getty Images)

2. Wednesday: Police say Bulley was ‘high risk’

At a press conference, senior investigating officer Det Supt Rebecca Smith reiterated that the force’s “main working hypothesis” was Bulley fell into the River Wyre - before revealing she had a “number of specific vulnerabilities” which meant she was “graded as high risk”.

However, Det Supt Smith refused to give more details of the mother-of-two’s “individual vulnerabilities”. She added amateur sleuths and social media video makers had “distracted significantly” from the police’s efforts to find Bulley.

PRESTON, KENT - FEBRUARY 15: Senior Investigating Officer Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith of Lancashire Police holds a press conference at Lancashire Police HQ on February 15, 2023 in Preston, Kent. Lancashire police have been investigating the disappearance of Nicola Bulley who hasn't been seen since walking her dog along the banks of the River Wyre on January 27, 2023. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Senior investigating officer Det Supt Rebecca Smith, of Lancashire Police, at the press conference on Wednesday. (Getty Images) (Christopher Furlong via Getty Images)

3. Wednesday: Police then say Bulley had ‘some significant issues with alcohol’

Just hours later, Lancashire Police took an extraordinary step: revealing exactly what those vulnerabilities were. It said in a statement: “Sadly, it is clear from speaking to Paul and the family that Nicola had in the past suffered with some significant issues with alcohol which were brought on by her ongoing struggles with the menopause and that these struggles had resurfaced over recent months. This caused some real challenges for Paul and the family.”

The force also revealed “police and health professionals attended a report of concern for welfare at Nicola’s home address” on 10 January, 17 days before she went missing.

There was an immediate backlash. Silkie Carlo, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said it was a “serious invasion of her privacy with no obvious benefits for the investigation… a shocking decision”. Senior Conservative MP Alicia Kearns said it “would assist those wishing to victim-blame or diminish”.

A photo issued by Lancashire Police of missing woman Nicola Bulley, 45, who was last seen on Friday, 27 January. (PA)
Lancashire Police revealed personal details about Bulley - and faced an immediate backlash. (PA) (PA)

4. Thursday: Bulley’s family say ‘Nikki would not have wanted this’

In a statement issued by the police, Bulley’s family lamented the “speculation and rumours into her private life”. It said it was aware the force would release the statement detailing her personal struggles, but didn’t say it supported this.

The statement went on: “Although we know that Nikki would not have wanted this, there are people out there threatening to sell stories about her. This is appalling and needs to stop.”

Watch: Nicola Bulley’s family plead for end to speculation over her private life

5. Thursday: Force refers itself to police watchdog

Amid the backlash, Lancashire Police referred itself to the police watchdog over contact the force had with Bulley prior to her disappearance.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said it was assessing the information to determine whether an investigation would be necessary over the contact officers had with Bulley on the aforementioned visit to her home on 10 January.

6. Thursday: Home secretary demands ‘explanation’ over private life disclosure

The row reached the top of government, with sources close to home secretary Suella Braverman revealing she was demanding an “explanation” from Lancashire Police as to why aspects of Bulley’s private life were disclosed.

On Friday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, the former director of public prosecutions at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), also told Times Radio: “I was very surprised to see what the police had put out there. I was not sure why that degree of personal information was necessary.”

Home Secretary Suella Braverman leaving Downing Street, London, after a Cabinet meeting. Picture date: Tuesday January 31, 2023. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images)
Suella Braverman was demanding an 'explanation' from Lancashire Police about the release of the details about Bulley. (PA Images via Getty Images) (Stefan Rousseau - PA Images via Getty Images)

7. Friday: Force to be questioned by the Information Commissioner

The Information Commissioner said he will be asking Lancashire Police how it reached the decision to disclose Bulley’s struggles with alcohol and HRT (hormone replacement therapy).

John Edwards said: “Data protection law exists to ensure people’s personal information is used properly and fairly. This includes ensuring personal details are not disclosed inappropriately. Police can disclose information to protect the public and investigate crime, but they would need to be able to demonstrate such disclosure was necessary.”

8. Friday: Father emphasises family struggle

Amid the politics, Bulley - a mother, a partner, a daughter, a friend - remained missing.

Her father Ernie Bulley told Sky News: "Every day is a struggle. [We're] no further on from three weeks ago. [We] just need a breakthrough to give us some hope."