Nicola Bulley: What is a high-risk missing person?
Nicola Bulley was immediately classified by police as a high-risk missing person after she disappeared on 27 January.
Nicola Bulley was classed by police as a “high-risk” missing person immediately after she was reported to have disappeared, senior officers have said.
Bulley, 45, vanished after dropping off her daughters, aged six and nine, at school on 27 January in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire.
She was last seen at 9.10am taking her usual route with her springer spaniel Willow, alongside the River Wyre.
A search involving specialist officers was launched within an hour of her partner Paul Ansell speaking to officers, and she was deemed to be vulnerable and “high-risk” based on the information he had given them.
During a press conference on Wednesday, police did not give further details of her vulnerabilities but later issued a statement confirming she had "significant issues with alcohol".
Police said as a result of those issues, a response car staffed by officers and health professionals attended a report of concern for welfare at her home on 10 January.
They added no one was arrested but the incident was still being investigated.
Senior officers stressed they did not believe anyone had attacked or abducted Bulley and they believed she had gone into the water without anyone else being involved despite her not yet being found in the river.
Watch: Nicola Bulley was 'high risk' missing person due to 'a number of specific vulnerabilities'
What is a high-risk person?
A person whose whereabouts cannot be established is considered missing until they are located or they’re confirmed to be safe and well, according to the College of Policing.
There’s a ranking of risk level for each person that is considered missing, ranging from "no apparent risk (absent)" through to high-risk cases that require immediate action.
The police definition of a high-risk missing person is when the “risk of serious harm to the subject or the public is assessed as very likely”.
The Home Office has defined "risk of serious harm" as the following: “A risk which is life-threatening and/or traumatic, and from which recovery, whether physical or psychological, can be expected to be difficult or impossible.”
Read more: What happened to Nicola Bulley? The three main police theories
How does being high-risk affect a missing person search?
Police resources are deployed immediately for someone in this category.
Action is only delayed should there be an exceptional reason - e.g searching water or forested areas when it’s dark.
A senior officer is expected to be involved in the examination of initial lines of enquiry and approval of appropriate staffing levels.
The Missing Persons Bureau (MPB) should be immediately notified and children’s services should also be told if the person under 18.
A high-risk missing person case should have an investigating officer (IO), possibly an SIO and a police search adviser (PolSA), according to the college of policing.
It adds a press strategy should be formulated and there should be a close relationship with outside agencies.
Police should also put in place family support where appropriate.
What did police say about Bulley's vulnerabilities?
Police initially did not give further details of her vulnerabilities but later issued a statement confirming she had "significant issues with alcohol."
The force said: “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.
“As a result of those issues, a response car staffed by both police and health professionals attended a report of concern for welfare at Nicola’s home address on 10 January. No one has been arrested in relation to this incident, but it is being investigated.
“It is an unusual step for us to take to go into this level of detail about someone’s private life, but we felt it was important to clarify what we meant when we talked about vulnerabilities to avoid any further speculation or misinterpretation.
“We have explained to Nicola’s family why we have released this further information and we would ask that their privacy is respected at this difficult time.”