Rishi Sunak says Nicola Bulley police must be ‘transparent’ over investigation into handling of case

·3-min read
Assistant Chief Constable Peter Lawson of Lancashire Constabulary
Assistant Chief Constable Peter Lawson of Lancashire Constabulary

Rishi Sunak has said Lancashire Constabulary must be “transparent” in its internal investigation into the handling of the Nicola Bulley case.

Ms Bulley’s body was discovered by two dog walkers and then identified on Monday after she disappeared in the village of St Michael’s on Wyre more than three weeks ago.

Asked if Mr Sunak supported growing calls for an independent external review, his official spokesman said: “Our position is to allow the existing process to report back.

“We would expect them to detail their findings and then obviously we will consider the next steps as appropriate.”

Challenged over fears Lancashire Constabulary’s own inquiry would amount to “marking their own homework”, the spokesman added: “These are long-established processes and we would expect the force to be transparent in their findings.

“That does not preclude further work at the end of that.”

The detective who investigated Sarah Payne's murder says Lancashire Constabulary must face an external inquiry into its handling of Ms Bulley’s disappearance.

The police force has set a date for the internal review into the case, but Martyn Underhill, the former Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset, has doubled down on his call for an independent inquiry into the probe.

"You've got to bring in an external force to look at the lines of inquiry, search strategy, the search of the river and how they've handled the media”, he said.

He said while not yet enough is known about the circumstances of the discovery of the body, "on the face of it, to find a body less than a mile from where she was missing suggests something went wrong".

Police on Monday confirmed a body discovered by two walkers on Sunday was Ms Bulley, more than three weeks after she first went missing.

The discovery brought an intensive 23-day search for the 45-year-old mortgage adviser to a close.

Helicopters, underwater drones, divers, specialist sonar equipment and agencies from the coastguard to mountain rescue had all been mobilised in one of the biggest missing person investigations in recent years.

Her body was found less than a mile away from where she disappeared in a tidal section of the River Wyre.

On Monday a spiritual medium and psychic claimed the body was found by him and a friend after he used his "gift" to locate her.

Nicola Bulley - PA
Nicola Bulley - PA

In a press conference on Monday night, the force did not address the criticism it had received for disclosing Ms Bulley had struggled with alcohol issues brought on by the menopause in the months before she disappeared.

On Wednesday, they revealed that she was classed as a "high-risk" missing person immediately after Mr Ansell reported her disappearance, "based on a number of specific vulnerabilities".

They later added in a statement that Ms Bulley, from Inskip in Lancashire, had stopped taking HRT medication.

Public backlash and interventions from the Home Secretary and Prime Minister followed, with Lancashire Constabulary saying a date had been set for an internal review into the case.

Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, said on Monday she was not "wholly satisfied" with responses given by the Chief Constable when she demanded an explanation as to why some of Ms Bulley's personal details were put into the public domain.

She said she will see what Lancashire police's own inquiries "come back with" when asked if there would be an external review into the handling of the case.

Although Ms Bulley's death is still being treated as unexplained, Asst Chief Constable Lawson said the case is now being handled by HM Coroner, which suggests police believe that the death is not suspicious.