Missing mum Nicola Bulley fell into a river while out walking her dog, police believe, as they focus on a 10 minute window in which her movements cannot be accounted for.
The mother-of-two, 45, disappeared a week ago, having last been seen near the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, last Friday morning.
Speaking at a press conference, Lancashire Police Superintendent Sally Riley told reporters their ‘main working hypothesis’ is that she fell into the River Wyre and that ‘this is not suspicious, but a tragic case of a missing person’.
She gave an updated timeline of Ms Bulley’s last known movements, saying she was seen on the river path at 8.43an after dropping her children at school.
The mortgage adviser was then seen walking her springer spaniel Willow around the lower field a few minutes later at 8.47am, before emailing her boss at 8.53am and logging into a Teams call at 9.01am.
At 9.10am, she and Willow were spotted in the upper field and police believe her phone was on a bench while still connected to the Teams meeting at 9.20am.
Timeline of Nicola Bulley’s last known movements
– 8.43am: Ms Bulley walked along the path by the River Wyre, having dropped her children off at school.
– Around 8.50am: A dogwalker who knows Ms Bulley saw her walking around the lower field with her dog. Their two dogs interacted briefly before the witness left the field via the river path.
– 8.53am: Ms Bulley sent an email to her boss.
– 9.01am: She logged into a Teams call.
– Around 9.10am: Somebody who knows Ms Bulley saw her on the upper field walking her dog, Willow. Lancashire Police say they are trying to establish exactly what time this was.
– 9.30am: The Teams call ended but Ms Bulley stayed logged on.
– Around 9.35am: Her mobile phone and dog were found at a bench by the river by another dogwalker.
That meeting ended 10 minutes later but Ms Bulley’s phone remained dialled in, the senior officer said.
Supt Riley said: ‘This means we have only a 10-minute window in which we cannot account for Nicola’s movements.’
Reviews of nearby CCTV, dashcam and doorbell footage ‘has allowed us to eliminate any trace of Nicola having left the riverside, she added, meaning she likely ‘remained in the riverside area’.
‘Our main working hypothesis therefore is that Nicola has sadly fallen into the river, that there is no third party or criminal involvement and that this is not suspicious, but a tragic case of a missing person.
‘This is particularly important because speculation otherwise can be really distressing for the family and for Nicola’s children.’
She suggested an ‘issue’ with Willow could potentially have led her to the water’s edge.
The senior officer went on: ‘I don’t wish to speculate, in that we don’t know, but it is possible as the dog was loose and off the lead.
‘There may have been an issue with the dog that led her to the water’s edge, she puts her phone down to go and deal with the dog momentarily, and Nicola may have fallen in.
‘We assume the dog didn’t get into the river, but we don’t know why Nicola may have if she did.’
She confirmed ‘the dog was dry’ and Ms Bulley can swim.
Earlier on Friday, Ms Bulley’s partner Paul Ansell told reporters near to where she was last seen ‘it is as though she has vanished into thin air’.
Nicola Bulley’s husband pleads for her safe return
He said he ‘cannot get his head around’ how she disappeared, saying: ‘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.’
He added: ‘We’re never, ever going to lose hope, of course we’re not, but it is as though she has vanished into thin air. It’s just insane.’
Ms Bulley’s father Ernie gave a heart-wrenching interview on Thursday in which he broke down in tears as he said he would ‘do anything’ for his missing daughter.
Emotional moment missing dog walker’s dad bursts into tears during TV appeal
He said: ‘The main thing is that we want to find Nicola, get her back home.
‘There are two young children there waiting for their mummy to come back and we want her back obviously also, but if Nicola is out there, if she’s watching this, then all we’d like to say is come home, contact the police, contact ourselves and we just want you back.
‘And they know that mummy’s missing but they know that she’s going to be coming home and everyone is looking for her so it’s only a matter of time, that they’re thinking in their minds, that she’s going to walk through that door.’
On Friday, members of the local community stood by the side of the road holding signs bearing Ms Bulley’s photo, urging people to contact police with information.
Police give list of clothing and accessories they are searching for in connection with the disappearance
Supt Riley gave a list of clothing and accessories police are searching for in connection with missing mother-of-two Ms Bulley.
She told a press conference: ‘I do have an update on the clothing that Nicola was last seen wearing, and this is something that the public who live in the area, or who walk their dogs on the river path near to St Michael’s or downstream of St Michael’s towards Morecambe Bay, can look out for.
‘They are an ankle-length black quilted gilet jacket, a black Engelbert Strauss waist-length coat which was worn underneath the gilet, tight-fitting black jeans, long green walking socks tucked into her jeans, ankle-length green Next wellies, a necklace and a pale blue Fitbit.
‘It’s really important that the public pay heed to those very specific clothing descriptions please, because factual sightings of those items would be very useful to us.’
She added: ‘I would also appeal to the public to keep themselves safe in this inquiry. People going out at night in the darkness could fall into the river and face other hazards.
‘Likewise, if they go out in boats on the river, please only do so if you’ve got experience in that.’
Mr Ansell said the support from the community had given the family ‘a great amount of comfort’.
Ms Bulley’s friend, Emma White, told the BBC: ‘Seven days on, such a tough milestone today for all the family and friends.
‘We’re out in force today. We’ve had banners made, placards with her face, so the idea is that seven days on there might be someone that’s passing today that passed last Friday, that might be able to shed that glimmer of hope we need.’
She added: ‘They are the most close-knit family. Those poor girls asking questions, “where’s mummy, how is mummy”.’
Missing Nicola Bulley’s children keep asking ‘where is Mummy?’
A potential witness, a dog walker, who was traced following a police appeal on Thursday, said she had spoken to officers and ‘doesn’t know anything’.
Christine Bowman, 67, told the Daily Mirror: ‘[The disappearance] has made local women fearful. If they have husbands or partners, they have been taking the dogs out instead.’
Lancashire Police, who have launched a huge search operation, said that despite ‘unanswered questions’, people should not ‘speculate or spread false rumours’ about the disappearance.
Ms Bulley, a mortgage adviser from Inskip, Lancashire, vanished while walking her dog after dropping off her daughters, aged six and nine, at school last Friday morning.
She was last seen at 9.10am and she had logged on to a work Teams call, which ended at 9.30am with her still logged on.
Her mobile phone and the lead and harness for her dog, springer spaniel Willow, were found on a bench close to the River Wyre in the Lancashire countryside.
She is reported to have texted a friend minutes before the last known sighting of her.
Police have said they do not believe any crime has been committed and are treating the incident as a missing person inquiry.