John Edwards, Britain’s Information Commissioner, has asked Lancashire Police to explain why they disclosed information about Nicola Bulley’s struggles with alcohol and menopause to the public. Former Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, criticized the police for this “dreadful error.”
Bulley, 45, has been missing since January 27 when she took her dog, Willow, for a walk along the banks of the River Wyre in Lancashire after dropping her two daughters off at a nearby primary school. This case has attracted a lot of attention from the press and social media.
On Wednesday, Lancashire Police held a press conference in which they said Bulley had “specific vulnerabilities” which led them to immediately assess her as “high risk” when she was reported missing. They later issued a statement clarifying what they meant by her “vulnerabilities.” The statement said that Bulley had in the past suffered with some significant issues with alcohol due to her struggles with menopause, which had resurfaced recently and caused challenges for her family.
Commissioner Edwards said that data protection law exists to ensure people’s personal information is not disclosed inappropriately. He said police can disclose information to protect the public and investigate crime, but they would need to demonstrate that such disclosure was necessary. Edwards said he would be asking Lancashire Police to explain how they reached the decision to disclose this information.
It has been reported that Home Secretary Suella Braverman has privately taken Lancashire Police to task over the move, although she has not commented on the matter publicly. Baird said the decision to reveal so much private information about Bulley was “sexist,” and questioned whether such details would have been released if the missing person was a man.
Bulley’s family issued a statement on Thursday saying that although they know Bulley would not have wanted this, there are people out there speculating and threatening to sell stories about her. They said Bulley was suffering from perimenopause and had stopped taking HRT medication due to intense headaches.
Lancashire Police have said they believe Bulley “went into the river” and was not a victim of foul play, but their failure to find a body has fuelled other theories on social media.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct has said it is assessing the information to determine whether an investigation is necessary over the contact officers had with Bulley.