Key locations in the Nicola Bulley case
Former detectives have warned something is “really wrong” with the Nicola Bulley case. Mark Williams-Thomas, who worked on the Jimmy Saville case, and Mick Neville, who headed up Lambeth’s Missing Persons unit in London, have outlined eight mysteries surrounding the case, and tried to explain them.
Ms Bulley, 45, vanished without a trace 15 days ago. She was last spotted walking her springer spaniel Willow on a riverside walk in St Michael’s on the River Wyre in Lancashire.
Despite searches by Lancashire police, vigilantes, specialist diving teams, and mass speculation online, Bulley’s disappearance remains unexplained.
Several characteristics of the case are currently shrouded with mystery and have stoked conspiracy theories.
After going missing, the mother-of-two’s mobile phone was left on a bench with her dog’s harness. Moreover, no footprints were found on the scene and the dog was completely dry.
Earlier in the search, Lancashire Police said they were working with the theory she fell in the Wyre after trying to retrieve her dog’s ball.
Police divers and forensics have searched various parts of the River Wyre
The ball was seen in a picture she shared on the fitness app Strava before she went missing.
A specialist diving team called Specialist Group International searched the water around the area using a £55,000 machine that maps chunks of the river bed, but Ms Bulley remained missing. The Chief Executive of the group concluded she probably didn’t fall into the water. Police have also sent out divers to look in the river to no avail.
But ex-Scotland Yard detective Mr Neville has supported Lancashire Police’s conclusion that she fell in the river. He had a simple explanation for this remaining mystery.
The former copper argued the water search needs to “hugely expand” and found it “strange” the search has only been in a “specific area”.
He warned she could be miles away from the area where she first went missing, referencing the case of Anthony Knott, a firefighter who fell into the River Ouse and was found three weeks later.
He told MailOnline: “They must do everything they can to stop a body getting to the sea where it will be lost.”
At roughly 9.35 a dog walker found Ms Bulley’s phone and dog by a bench near the water.
Willow, Nicola’s dog, was off its lead and out of its harness.
Mr Neville, who said “something is really wrong” with the case, thinks the missing possessions could be an important “pointer” to the whereabouts of Ms Bulley.
He believes Ms Bulley may have been knocked into the river by Willow or that she lost her footing on the river bank while trying to dodge the dog.
He suggested she put the phone down because her dog was running around.
Nicola Bulley’s phone was found on the bench with her dog Willow’s harness off
He said: “Every picture I see of that river bank shows the edge is a sheer drop. So the lack of foot slip marks or any disturbed ground doesn’t stop me thinking she has fallen in. I think it is most likely she is in that river.”
People, including TikTok influencers, were pictured strolling around the area Nicola Bulley went missing, something experts say could have tampered with the forensic investigation.
Police have recently been given powers to disperse people taking photos and videos of the scene.
Both Mr Neville and Williams-Thomas think Lancashire Police made a “mistake” by not blocking off the area as soon as the search started.
Mr Neville said the area should have been blocked off immediately and that there could have been some forensic evidence.
The ex-cops said the police should have blocked off the scene immediately
Mr William-Thomas added he would have treated the case differently at the start and declared it as a suspicious, critical incident.
He said he would have treated it like murder or abduction, although he also said the police were right to have an open mind.
He told MailOnline: “The problem that they have got is that they also said it wasn’t criminal.”
Ms Bulley is understood to be a fitness enthusiast who liked running and would map out her journeys on Strava. She also had a Fitbit, a fitness tracker that Mr Neville thinks could help determine whether she has died or not.
The device, which is to be waterproof to a depth of 50m, could have still been working until its power died.
The information, if the device was set up in a certain way, could have been linked to her phone.
Nicola Bulley was wearing a Fitbit which a detective thinks could provide clues
Mr Neville said it will show her heartbeat, including whether it stopped or changed, which could be handy in the search.
While, Mr Williams-Thomas said police will be able to use lots of digital data to boost the investigation.
He suggested many theories could be dispelled shortly because of Ms Bulley’s digital footprint and the digital footprints of suspects.
Police will have to trawl through all sorts of data to build a comprehensive “picture” of Ms Bulley to find new suspects or rule out others, he said.
These days, online bank data, CCTV and personal cameras, automatic number plate recognition, and more can be used to give a helping hand.
Since the start of the search, police are said to have located every single person caught on CCTV in the area when she went missing.
But there may be people absent in the footage but known about by Police that could be suspects.
Mr Neville said the authorities will look at registered sex offenders around the area or nearby and revisit similar past cases with Ms Bulley’s case on their mind.
Their movements will likely be considered by an intelligence unit who will trawl through all of this, he added.
Police will likely revisit previous sex offences around the area for clues
There are three pathways leading to the river bank where police believe Ms Bulley may have fallen into the river.
Two of these are covered by CCTV while a third is not. But Ms Bulley was not captured in footage on either of the walks covered by cameras.
Because of this, Mr Neville has urged police to look more at the third path. He argued you can’t “rule out” the possibility that Nicola or anyone else walked down the cameraless path.
There are three paths leading to the area Nicola went missing, two with CCTV
Mr Williams-Thomas is less certain about Bulley falling into the water, and said “clearly something happened to her”, possibly something “sad”.
He said he has struggled to understand the reason for her disappearance as she left a dog, partner and children behind.
He said: “I have investigated enough murders and missing people and this to me seems like there is something more to it. Something pretty sad.”
He added: “Members of the public are thinking the police might know more than what they are saying, but I never give over-credit in these things.
“The police have certainly given the impression they have more knowledge than what is out there, but what is contrary to that is what the family have been saying in their appeal.”