Remarks criticising Nicola Bulley detective's 'skin tight dress' condemned

A former head of a police watchdog has hit back at media coverage of the investigation into Nicola Bulley's disappearance, following criticism of the female detective leading the search for the missing mother-of-two.

Zoe Billingham, who previously served as His Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary, told Sky News she was "really disturbed" by coverage that focused on what Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith was wearing and what her hair looked like.

"We've talked a lot about misogyny and sexism [in recent days] but one of the things that's really disturbed me over the last day or two is the abuse frankly that the senior investigating officer has herself been exposed to," she said.

"[She's a] very competent and able detective, a superintendent, but the media has been poring over what she wore at the press conference, what her hair looked like: this is the 21st century isn't it? I think Lancashire Police and the detective superintendent in charge should now be able to get on with their job."

More news:
How police could have avoided dreadful invasion of Nicola Bulley's privacy
Father of missing Nicola Bulley hopes for 'breakthrough'
Rishi Sunak 'concerned' over private information shared in case

It follows criticism of a tweet by Daily Mail columnist Amanda Platell, who posted a photograph of DS Smith at a news conference on Wednesday.

She wrote: "Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith at press conference yesterday - skin tight navy dress, stilettos, poker straightened hair - whatever happened to a cop uniform! Or is she auditioning for Love Island for midlifers. Show some respect for a missing mother!"

Ms Platell's remarks sparked a backlash on social media.

Michelle Skeer, the Chief Constable of Cumbria, tweeted: "I wouldn't normally comment on such poor journalism but this is an absolutely disgraceful comment about a professional senior female police colleague - I did wonder what decade I was in!"

Her counterpart at North Wales Police, Amanda Blakeman, also weighed in, saying: "With such a serious investigation ongoing & a family appealing for help rather than judgment, the 'reporting' turns to wardrobe selection! This dedicated and professional officer is out there working through a complex investigation.

"Misogynistic comments like this have no place".

Click to subscribe to the Sky News Daily wherever you get your podcasts

Andrew Snowden, police commissioner for the force conducting the investigation, tweeted that Ms Platell's comments were a "perfect example of worst of what has happened in parts of media around the sensitive & complex search for Nicola Bulley".

He added: "Superintendent Smith is a detective so doesn't wear uniform. She's also more on her mind than what a clickbait journalist thinks of her choice of office wear."

Meanwhile, the father of missing Ms Bulley has said that "every day is a struggle" as the family waits for news.

The 45-year-old disappeared on 27 January while walking her dog in the village of St Michael's on Wyre in Lancashire.