MISSING mother Nicola Bulley may have been trying to retrieve her dog’s ball when she stumbled in a “freak accident”, police said yesterday.
They now believe the 45-year-old, weighed down with heavy clothes, had “sadly fallen in the river” eight days ago at St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancs.
11Police fear missing mum Nicola Bulley may have been trying to retrieve her dog’s ball and fell into the riverCredit: 11Nicola, 45, has not been seen since taking her dog for a morning walk eight days agoCredit: PA11Cops are scouring the river near to where Nicola was last seenCredit: PACops say dog Willow’s ball which is still missing, as they desperately trying to work out what happened in a “lost” ten minutes around the time Nicola Bulley vanished.
They said Nicola could swim but was wearing two heavy jackets and wellington boots which may have weighed her down.
The mortgage adviser, 45, was last seen walking at 9.10am on Friday January 27, shortly after dropping her two daughters at school in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire.
At 9.20am police believe her phone was on a bench while connected to a work Teams meeting, which ended ten minutes later.
Supt Sally Riley said yesterday: “We only have a ten-minute window in which we cannot account for Nicola’s movements.”
Police believe Nicola could have fallen into the River Wyre while dealing with Willow.
She had taken off the spaniel’s lead and harness.
A passer-by found the “bone dry” pet near the bench where Nicola’s phone was still linked to the work call.
In social media images posted to fitness app Strava, a yellow ball can be seen in Willow’s mouth, suggesting games of chase.
Supt Riley said there may have been “an issue” with the dog that led her to the water’s edge.
11Specialist police teams are scouring the River Wyre for trace of Nicola or her possessionsCredit: PA11It is feared Nicola was wearing heavy clothing which could have prevented her swimming to safetyCredit: PA11Police say there is a short window where they cannot account for Nicola’s movementsNicola may have put down her phone to deal with the problem momentarily, and fallen in.
The officer added: “I’m not aware of a dog ball being retrieved but it’s possible a ball could have rolled down the steep bank close to the water and Ms Bulley was bending down to pick it up.
“What she was wearing could also be a factor.
“Her clothing was heavy, particularly on someone of slight build and only 5ft 3in.
“We assume the dog didn’t get into the river, but we don’t know why Nicola may have if she did.”
Supt Riley added: “It’s such a strange and perplexing case.”
Speaking at a press conference in the village hall, Supt Riley said: “Based on all the work we have done so far, we are now as confident as we can be that Nicola has not left the field where she was last seen and our working hypothesis is that she has fallen into the river for some reason.
“There is no evidence whatsoever that there is anything suspicious about her disappearance or any third-party involvement in her going missing.”
Five unanswered questions
1) WHAT HAPPENED IN THE CRUCIAL MISSING 10MINS?
At 9.10am, a witness who knows Nicola saw her out walking Willow. At 9.20am police know her phone was on the bench where it was later found, connected to a work Teams meeting. Cops want to know what Nicola did in between.
2) DID SHE PUT HER PHONE DOWN BECAUSE DOG WAS IN TROUBLE?
Police said an ‘issue’ with the dog may have led her to the water’s edge – though they do not think Willow herself entered the water, as the animal was dry when found.
3) IF NICOLA ENDED UP IN THE WATER, HOW DID IT HAPPEN?
Police have said parts of the riverbank are treacherous and she may have fallen. However, her parents have said there was no obvious sign of a slip or of her falling into the water at the scene.
4) COULD SHE HAVE BEEN TRYING TO RETRIEVE WILLOW’S BALL?
The pet was off the lead and also not wearing its harness, which was found by the bench. In social media pictures, Willow often had a ball in her mouth, No ball has been found at the scene. Did it end up in the river?
5) WHERE ARE NICOLA AND HER POSSESSIONS?
Police have dedicated ‘unprecedented’ resources to the search of a 10-mile stretch of water to no avail. They have asked the public to look out for items including an ankle-length black quilted gilet jacket, a black Engelbert Strauss waist-length coat, ankle-length green Next wellies, a necklace and a pale blue Fitbit.
The officer ruled out Nicola having been snatched or leaving on foot because all exit gates were locked or covered by CCTV.
She said the inquiry team had pulled security footage, dashcams and ring doorbells, as well as speaking to three key witnesses.
Supt Riley added: “This has allowed us to eliminate any trace so far of Nicola having left the riverside, which is really important.
“There’s such a tiny window for criminal involvement that it becomes highly unlikely.”
Earlier, Nicola’s heartbroken partner Paul Ansell, 44, revealed that he “cannot get his head around” how his partner of 12 years had disappeared.
He said: “It’s like she’s vanished into thin air.”
11Willow was found by another dog walker off his leash, but had not been in the waterCredit: Enterprise11Nicola’s devastated partner Paul Ansell is caring for her two daughtersCredit: PA11He says it is like Nicola has ‘vanished’ and the family will never recoverCredit: PAMr Ansell said his focus was on staying strong for their daughters, aged nine and six, who know Mummy is missing.
Fighting back tears, the engineer said: “We’re never, ever going to lose hope, of course, we’re not.
“My whole focus is my two girls, just staying as strong as I can for them.
“I’m scared that if I put focus into anything else it’s going to take my focus off that.”
Speaking near to where Nicola vanished, Mr Ansell added: “Every single scenario comes to a brick wall. Every single one of them.
“All we are doing is sitting there going round and round and round through each scenario.”
Mr Ansell thanked the community for its incredible support, but said he cannot believe that a week on it feels like “we are no further forward”.
He added: “It just seems absolutely impossible. Like a dream. I cannot get my head around it.
“Right now it’s like she’s vanished into thin air, it’s insane.”
On the support his family has received, he added: “It’s the only thing that we can take (from the situation) is that the level of support is out of this world.
“It gives us a great amount of comfort knowing that that’s going on, we don’t have anything else. We’re never going to lose hope.”
Nicola’s close pal Emma White described her as “the most beautiful person” and “the kindest soul”.
Ms White told BBC: “She’s thoughtful, she’s caring.
“And then you add her and Paul together, add a little bit of magic, and they’ve created these two beautiful humans who just want to know where their mummy is.
“They are the most close-knit family. Those poor girls asking questions, ‘Where’s Mummy, how is Mummy?’”
Supt Riley praised the family for their dignified response.
She said: “Since Nicola went missing her family, particularly her partner, her children, her parents, and her sister are in real agony.
“I want to pay particular tribute for their patience and dignity and strength at this time.”
Police also explained how Nicola was wearing two heavy jackets and wellington boots — bulky winter clothing which could have been a burden if she had fallen into the freezing water.
She wore an ankle-length black, quilted gilet jacket, a black Engelbert Strauss waist-length coat, tight-fitting black jeans, ankle-length green Next wellies, long green walking socks, and a necklace.
Nicola also had a pale blue Fitbit on her wrist and police tech teams are trying to establish whether it stores any location data.
Supt Riley urged people to “pay heed to those very specific clothing descriptions”.
Yesterday it emerged Nicola sent a text to a friend booking a playdate at 8.57am — just before logging on to a work Teams call while she walked along the river.
A pal said: “She booked a playdate, 8.57, she sent a text message to a friend whose mortgage she had just recently signed off on to arrange for the girls to go for tea this week.”
The friend said this was more evidence that she had no intention of voluntarily disappearing.
The pal added: “You would not have done that if you were going to get up and go missing.”
Police said the search of the River Wyre and area around St Michael’s on Wyre will continue over the weekend.
Search teams, underwater drones, and tidal experts are hunting along a ten-mile stretch of water upstream and to the Irish Sea.
Supt Riley said: “We have not found Nicola but our search continues.
“We are as sure as we can be that she didn’t leave the area.
“It’s a large rural area with a long stretch of river, we are doing everything possible to bring Nicola home.”
Supt Riley added that officers had checked all available CCTV but they are still interested in dashcam footage for areas not covered by cameras.
11Tidal experts have been called in to help with the search for Nicola11Police believe Nicola did not leave the area after checking CCTV camerasCredit: Timeline
JANUARY 27: Nicola drops her daughters at school and takes dog Willow for a walk along the Wyre.
She is last seen at 9.10am by a passer-by. A Teams call which she started at 9.01am ends at about 9.30am but her phone remains connected.
The mobile is found on a bench by a dog-walker who spots Willow running free nearby.
JANUARY 28: Helicopters, drones, search teams and police dogs scour the area.
JANUARY 29: About 100 volunteers join the search.
JANUARY 30: Supt Sally Riley says police are keeping an open mind about what could have happened and were not treating the disappearance as suspicious.
JANUARY 31: A potential witness — a man walking a white dog nearby at the time — talks to police.
Nicola’s family says it has been overwhelmed by the support in the community, and that her daughters are “desperate to have Mummy back home safe”.
FEBRUARY 1: Parents Ernie and Dot tell of the “horror” possibility they may never see their daughter again.
FEBRUARY 2: Police talk to a second witness identified from CCTV but they cannot provide any information.
Officers search near where the phone was found while divers check the river.
Nicola’s sister, Louise Cunningham, tells Sky News: “There has to be somebody who knows something. Get in touch and get my sister back.”
Dad Ernie says he hopes the family’s interview would “spark a light”, leading to Nicola being found.
FEBRUARY 3: Police are working on the theory that Nicole may have fallen into the river.
Supt Riley cautions against speculation but says it is possible an issue with Willow may have led her to the water’s edge.
Story Credit: thesun.co.uk