Police investigating the disappearance of mother-of-two Nicola Bulley believe she fell into a river.
The 45-year-old was last seen next to the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, on a dog walk a week ago.
A major search for Ms Bulley continues, but no trace of her has been found.
Lancashire Police said its “main working hypothesis” was that she fell into the River Wyre and this was “not suspicious but a tragic case of a missing person”.
Ms Bulley, a mortgage adviser from Inskip, Lancashire, vanished while walking her dog after dropping off her daughters, aged six and nine, at school on 27 January.
Supt Sally Riley said the last confirmed sighting of Ms Bulley was at 09:10 GMT when she was seen on the upper field.
Officers were alerted to her disappearance when her spaniel, Willow, was found running loose off Garstang Road about 25 minutes after she was last seen by another dog walker.
At 09:20 police believe her phone was on a bench while connected to a work Teams meeting, which ended 10 minutes later.
Detectives believe Ms Bulley vanished in that 10-minute window.
Supt Riley said police had looked through dashcam, CCTV and doorbell footage which allowed detectives to “eliminate any trace so far of Nicola having left the riverside”.
She said this was “really important” for the investigation.
“We believe that Nicola was in the riverside area and remained at the riverside area,” Supt Riley said.
“We remain open to any inquiries that might lead us to question that, but at this time we understand that she was by the river.”
The coastguard, mountain rescue and fire crews have joined police in ongoing searches of the river and nearby footpaths.
“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,” Supt Riley said.
“This is particularly important because speculation otherwise can be really distressing for the family and for Nicola’s children.”
Timeline of events
- 08:43 – Ms Bulley walked along the path by the River Wyre, having dropped her children off at school
- 08:47 – A dog walker who knows Ms Bulley saw her walking along the lower field. Their two dogs interacted briefly
- 08:53 – Ms Bulley sent an email to her boss
- 09:01 – She logged into a Teams call
- About 09:10 – A witness who knows Ms Bulley saw her on the upper field walking Willow
- 09:20 – Police inquiries suggest her phone was on the bench
- 09:30 – The Teams call ended but she stayed logged on
- About 09:35 – Ms Bulley’s mobile phone and Willow were found at a bench by the river
Supt Riley said Ms Bulley’s disappearance had “understandably caused a huge amount of concern and upset in the local community, as well as being an absolutely awful time for her family”.
Her partner Paul Ansell, 44, said earlier that the family had been living in “perpetual hell”.
He said: “We’re never going to lose the hope.
“But, right now, it is as though she has vanished into thin air. It’s just insane.”
Ms Bulley’s friend Emma White described her as “the most beautiful person” and “the kindest soul – 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,” she said.
“They are the most close-knit family. Those poor girls asking questions, ‘where’s mummy, how is mummy?'”
Supt Riley said an “issue” with Ms Bulley’s dog may have 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,” she said.
“We assume the dog didn’t get into the river, but we don’t know why Nicola may have if she did.”
Ms Riley said the dog was dry and that Ms Bulley could swim.
Ms Bulley has lived in Lancashire for 25 years but is originally from near Chelmsford, Essex, and has a southern accent.
She was last seen wearing an ankle-length black quilted gilet jacket, a black Engelbert Strauss waist-length coat which was worn underneath the gilet and tight-fitting black jeans.
She was also wearing long green walking socks tucked into her jeans, ankle-length green Next wellies, a necklace and a pale blue Fitbit.
Supt Riley urged people to “pay heed to those very specific clothing descriptions” and advised the public to “keep themselves safe” in the search for Ms Bulley.
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