Man arrested over footage from day Nicola Bulley’s body was found

nicola bulley a woman who has gone missing from st michael's on wyre lancashire
Man arrested over footage from Nicola Bulley caseLancashire Police handout

A man has been arrested over footage taken inside a police cordon on the day that Nicola Bulley's body was found in a river in Lancashire.

Lancashire Police said the 34-year-old man from Kidderminster in Worcestershire had been arrested on Wednesday (8 March) morning. The man was detained on suspicion of malicious communications offences as well as perverting the course of justice, but has since been released on bail with conditions, police confirmed.

Speaking about the arrest, a spokesperson for Lancashire Police said: "Our priority is, and has always been, to support Nicola's family and the wider community in St Michael's."

The spokesperson went on, "We hope this arrest provides reassurance that we take concerns seriously and will act on them."

The man's arrest follows reports that a number of online content creators descended on the village where Bulley went missing, with many dubbing social media users heavily invested in the case: 'armchair detectives'.

Were armchair detectives helpful or harmful in the case of Nicola Bulley?

The tragic disappearance of Nicola Bulley was one that garnered mass attention. The story was shared far and wide online, and the harrowing, confusing details had the public both transfixed and asking question after question.

But police and Bulley’s family voiced concern over the interest around the case. There were, according to authorities, an unprecedented number of armchair detectives and conspiracy theorists hypothesising and sleuthing on social media, to such an extent it was described as 'disgusting' and 'hurtful'. But could armchair detectives uncover something the police missed, or could public interest trump the protection of crucial evidence?

In a moment of mass rallying around Bulley’s case, people interested in the case were pushing things to the extreme both IRL and on social media. There were widespread conspiracies shared online about Bulley's loved ones, for example. In fact, Lancashire police issued a 48-hour dispersal order for the village close to where Bulley went missing, after hundreds of people turned up to the scene as if it was a “film set”.

One group of men travelled to the area in order to search an abandoned house and live-stream their search. On Facebook, there were multiple private groups – one with 31,000 members – sharing dozens of ‘leads’ a day. One group was billed for 'psychics, mediums, empaths' to share any 'visions, feelings, or guidance' around the case. A Guardian journalist also tweeted about how she was inundated by emails demanding she pursue their theories. Google Trends also showed significant spikes in search terms from ‘Nicola Bulley red van’ to ‘Nicola Bulley glove’.

But, the message from Bulley's friends, family and the Lancashire Police came loud and clear. Police specifically spoke out to say that all the conspiracy theories doing the rounds were hampering their work, as well as sharing that Bulley had 'specific vulnerabilities'. Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith, of Lancashire Police said in a statement that she had "never seen anything like it" before, and that officers were "inundated with false information, accusations and rumours".

Smith added that "some of it's been quite shocking, and hurtful for the family" and stressed the importance of privacy for them all during this incredibly upsetting time.

Lancashire Police also said it was looking into a number of "grossly offensive" comments and would action if appropriate, too.

nicola bulley seen with her dog by a river
Lancashire Police handout

A spokesperson for the force added: "The speculation and abuse on social media aimed at some people who are merely assisting our enquiry is totally unacceptable. We would urge people to remember that we are investigating the disappearance of Nicola, and the priority is Nicola and her family. We want to find her and provide answers to her family."

Bulley's family and friends also spoke out about how hurtful some of the comments online had been, particularly when it came to those aimed at Bulley's partner, Paul Ansel. Police said Ansel provided an alibi for the time of her disappearance, and was not being treated as a suspect. This didn't stem the wild social media frenzy though.

In an effort to stop further speculation and abuse, a family friend of Bulley known as Tilly Ann – with permission from the family – responded to some of the questions and noise circulating on social media in the press: "I can't sit back anymore and not act with regards to the hurt and distress that is being caused by some very inappropriate comments. Paul and Nikki both mostly work from home which is why he was at home that day. They have CCTV and there is a reason why Paul has never been a suspect.”

"Family and friends need these accusations to stop immediately. The fact that I've had to write this is disgusting to be honest."

Another friend, Heather Gibbons, also spoke out to condemn those treating the River Wyre area (that Bulley's mobile phone was found in) as a morbid tourist spot. While praising some for helping with search efforts, Gibbons said others had been showing up solely to "do personal social media things".

"The truth is if we look at it factually, no-one knows until we have some evidence," Gibbons continued. "I think it's incredibly hard, but up to a certain level, we understand it's human nature. It's natural for everyone to have speculation, because the truth is, nothing is making sense."

Concurrently, some people spoke out about their own frustrations and the treatment they received when they offered help. Underwater search expert Paul Faulding, who helped to search the River Wyre in the hopes of finding evidence relating to Bulley, claimed he faced accusations of only helping the case in order to promote his new book. Many questioned the timing of his help, and the number of media interviews he did. "This is what you get for trying to help people,” he tweeted. “I have given my life to helping families looking for missing loved ones. Do our job searching in dark murky waters for drowning victims. My team and I don’t deserve this trash."

The mother of two's disappearance came at an especially poignant time. Trust levels in the police are at a new low following multiple high profile, violent cases of corruption, crime and abuse from within their ranks, involving officers such as Sarah Everard’s killer Wayne Couzens and serial rapist David Carrick. The behaviour and actions of the police force more widely could have stoked the public feeling of duty to find Bulley.

Notably, society at large is gripped by a widely-held obsession with true crime. True crime culture – from chart-topping podcasts to Facebook groups and miles-long Reddit threads dedicated to murder and grisly cases – bring us closer than we have ever been to horrific, real-life events. True crime culture has made curious, morbid detectives out of us, where crowdsourced crime-solving is normal and involving oneself in cases is all the more possible.

While intentions may be good, it’s important to remember Nicola Bulley’s life isn’t a true crime series. This was a case happening in real time, with two very real young daughters, a partner, parents and friends watching it all unfold too. A little compassion goes a long way.

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