Police looking for Nicola Bulley today reiterated their theory she fell into the river and disclosed she was graded ‘high-risk’ due to ‘specific vulnerabilities’.
In a highly-detailed public briefing from Lancashire Police, the force said it had an open mind but said there was no evidence anyone was involved.
It revealed Ms Bulley’s long-term partner Paul Ansell had told them of a ‘number of specific vulnerabilities’ that caused them to treat her disappearance as ‘high risk’.
Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith said: ‘As soon as she was reported missing, following the information that was provided to the police by her partner Paul, and based on a number of specific vulnerabilities that we were made aware of, Nicola was graded as high-risk.
‘That is normal in a missing person investigation with the information we were in possession of. As any senior investigating officer does, you form a number of hypotheses, that is scenarios which are possible from the information to hand.
‘No evidence to indicate a criminal aspect or third party involvement’ in Nicola Bulley’s disappearance, Lancashire Police Assistant Chief Constable Peter Lawson said to a press conference this morning.
Mother-of-two Nicola Bulley, 45, has been missing now for 19 days from home in Inskip. Ms Bulley and her partner Paul Ansell were planning on getting married in the near future
‘Those hypotheses included the one that she possibly could have gone into the river, that there could have been third-party involvement and lastly, that she could have left the area voluntarily.
‘Those hypotheses have remained in place throughout, are reviewed regularly.
‘At the initial stages based on the information I received, I made it clear that it was my working hypothesis at that time based with all the facts that the main hypothesis I was working on at that time was that Nicola had gone in the river.
‘I think it’s clear to see that the amount of effort, hours worked, resources that we’ve put into this investigation that we have always been open-minded. Those three hypotheses and scenarios have been continually reviewed, and continue to do so to this day.’
The police used the press conference to hit back at ‘persistent myths’ surrounding the case, with Det Supt Smith addressing a wide range of theories from the ‘shabby’ red van seen driving locally to masked fishermen.
She also went into detail on how houses and areas viral social media commentary suggested had not been searched had in fact being scoured by detectives.
One abandoned house had been looked through three times and the detective said ‘Nicola is not in there’.
Today is the 19th day of the search for Ms Bulley, who disappeared just after 9.20am at the St Michael’s on the Wyre beauty spot.
Her two children and long-term partner Mr Ansell have been left tormented over the lack of answers over where she might be.
The police have consistently said they believe she has fallen in the river, despite pressure from relatives and friends suggesting she could have been taken.
TikTok sleuths who descended on the scene had previously frustrated officers, who at one point issued a 48-hour dispersal notice to clear the area.
Mr Ansell has urged investigators to widen their search for his partner and pleaded for answers to key questions.
He is also said to have been ‘appalled’ after police failed to respond to his request to hold a joint press conference last week.
Mr Ansell told forensic expert Peter Faulding, who is supporting the family, of his frustrations. Mr Faulding told the Mail: ‘He’s got a relationship with the police family liaison officers, but I think he’s struggling to get answers that he wants.
‘He’s got a line of communication with them, but I think there’s a problem.
‘He vented his frustrations to the family liaison officers last week in front of me when I was there. He said, “Why can’t you go and search buildings in the village?”
‘They said they can’t because they need a search warrant. He said, “Well, you could just ask them.” People would happily let them in, the whole village is behind him.
Mounted police in Knott End-on-Sea are pictured on Monday as they take part in the search for missing Nicola Bulley
Police went through various theories in detail to explain why they were wrong and not valid
‘There’s a feeling that there’s just a lack of imagination and willpower. I don’t want to be critical of police, but I’m just giving his thoughts really.’
Police have not held a press conference for seven days and last issued a statement on the case on February 10.
But in fresh concerns over the investigation’s early days, local fishermen say they were only contacted by police about whether they saw anything on the morning of Ms Bulley’s disappearance yesterday, more than two weeks after she vanished, The Times reports.
It comes after experienced detectives had raised concerns about the area where her phone and dog harness were found not being cordoned off at the beginning of the investigation.
But Mr Ansell is concerned that the force’s communications strategy may see the search for Ms Bulley lose momentum.
Mr Faulding explained on Tuesday: ‘Paul has said it is the media that is keeping this alive. The media is doing a good job at keeping this in the public domain.’
He also revealed that Mr Ansell was left ‘appalled’ after police ignored his requests to compile a joint statement.
‘He suggested that to them and he never even heard back. He wanted someone senior in front of the cameras at the scene, but it never happened.
‘He was absolutely appalled when we never heard back.’
He said: ‘Paul is just lost, really. He’s got no partner, the kids are missing their mum… He’s in pieces. Absolutely in pieces.
‘He just wants to know where Nicola is.’
Police were seen trawling the river again this week and Ms Bulley’s sister Louise Cunningham visited the bench where it is feared Nicola fell in the river.
The force is also understood to have contacted anglers on Monday to ask who was allowed to fish on the river on the day of the disappearance.
It raises questions over why they are only looking for witnesses now.
Mr Ansell is concerned that the communications strategy may see the search for Ms Bulley (pictured) lose momentum
Police outside Wyreside Farm Park Caravan site near the area where Ms Bulley vanished
Police officers patrol a footpath in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, on Sunday as they continue their search for missing woman Nicola Bulley
A local fisherman said: ‘The police were abrupt. They were asking about day ticket sales, what stretches of water the local angling club owns, what stretches of water they lease, how many members were fishing that day.
‘It sounds like they are trying to work out if anyone was fishing on the river that day and saw something, but nobody was.’
He said police had contacted fishermen on the first day of the disappearance, but only to ask how deep was the water where she went missing.
The angler stressed that no fishermen were there on January 27, the day Ms Bulley went missing, adding: ‘The only people that were on the river that day were dog walkers. I can guarantee you that.’
The man, who has been fishing the river for decades, said if Ms Bulley did fall in the water anyone walking along the bank would not have seen her.
He insisted: ‘I hope she hasn’t gone in the river for the sake of the kids, but if she did she would have been dragged under.
‘If a body goes in, it’s going to sink. She had two big coats on, wellies, jeans. A body would stay down and get taken out by undercurrents.’