Police have confirmed that the body found in the River Wyre on Sunday was that of Nicola Bulley, who had gone missing three weeks prior after walking her dog along the riverbank. Bulley, 45, was last seen on the morning of Jan. 27 in St Michael’s on Wyre, where she had just dropped her two young daughters off at a primary school. Lancashire Police had suspected that Bulley had “gone in the river,” but police divers and a specialist team led by forensic search specialist Peter Faulding had failed to find her body. However, a couple walking their dog spotted her body about a mile from where she went missing on Sunday.
On Monday, Lancashire Police’s Assistant Chief Constable Peter Lawson confirmed the body had been identified as Bulley and said the investigation into her disappearance had been “hugely complex and highly emotional.” The case has drawn enormous media coverage, and has also been the subject of widespread speculation and comment on social media. Last week, Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith criticised “TikTokers playing private detectives,” and it has also emerged that social media influencer Dan Duffy was given a fixed penalty notice under section 4 of the Public Order Act—which pertains to fear or provocation of violence—after he was arrested while filming in St Michael’s on Wyre for his YouTube channel.
After Bulley went missing, some commentators insinuated on social media that Bulley’s partner and the father of her two young daughters, Paul Ansell, might have been involved in her disappearance—despite the police saying they did not suspect foul play. On Monday, Bulley’s family issued a statement through the police website in which they said: “It saddens us to think that one day we will have to explain to [Bulley’s children] that the press and members of the public accused their dad of wrongdoing, misquoted and vilified friends and family. This is absolutely appalling, they have to be held accountable. This cannot happen to another family.” The family also criticised broadcasters Sky News and ITV for “making contact with us directly when we expressly asked for privacy.”
The family promised to give Bulley’s two daughters “the support they need from the people who love them the most.” They concluded: “Finally, Nikki, you are no longer a missing person, you have been found, we can let you rest now. We love you, always have and always will, we’ll take it from here.”
Lancashire Police were criticised last week after they released a statement that gave details of Bulley’s struggles with alcohol and with the menopause. There was an immediate backlash, with the former Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, claiming the statement had undermined public trust in the police by revealing such intimate details about Bulley. Home Secretary Suella Braverman contacted Lancashire Police with her own concerns while on Saturday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “I agree with the Home Secretary and like her I was concerned that private information was put into the public domain and I believe that the police are looking at how that happened in the investigation.” Lancashire Police say a date has been set for an internal review of the investigation. PA Media contributed to this report.