A specialist diving team has begun helping police scour a river in the search for mum-of-two Nicola Bulley, as her partner renewed appeals for answers ten days on.
Ms Bulley, 45, disappeared while walking her dog by the River Wyre, in the Lancashire village of St Michael’s on Wyre, on the morning of Friday, January 27.
Police are not treating her disappearance as suspicious, and revealed on Friday they believe she may have fallen into the river and become weighed down by her heavy winter clothing – a theory that has been questioned by her family.
Specialist Group International (SGI) – forensic experts responsible for assisting police across the south east with underwater search operations – has now been called in to help, with photos from the scene showing their work well underway on Monday afternoon.
The firm’s CEO Peter Faulding, who arrived on scene on Monday, said he had met with Ms Bulley’s partner of 12 years, Paul Ansell.
“Paul’s extremely distraught,” said Mr Faulding. “My thoughts go out to the family and friends. It’s a very difficult time.
“I’m used to dealing with families of drowning victims. It’s a horrible thing to be going through, not knowing where your loved one is.”
In a statement issued via police on Monday evening, Mr Ansell said he had “two little girls who miss their mummy desperately and who need her back.”
“This has been such a tough time for the girls especially but also for me and all of Nicola’s family and friends, as well as the wider community and I want to thank them for their love and support,” he said.
“We are also really grateful to Peter and his team from SGI for coming up and helping support the work of Lancashire Police as they continue their investigation.
“If anyone has any information which could help find Nicola, I urge them to get in touch with the police and help us provide the answers we all so badly need.”
Update Re Nicola Bulley search. We have just heard from the family of Nicola Bulley to confirm that the underwater search team from SGI will be deployed to assist @LancsPolice in the search. #NicolaBulley pic.twitter.com/ZV7oZrAssL
— Peter Faulding (@peter_faulding) February 5, 2023
Mr Faulding previously said he did not believe Ms Bulley is in the water, adding that if she was she would likely have been found during extensive searches already carried out by Lancashire Police diving teams.
He told Sky News his team has brought a “high-spec” £55,000 side-scan sonar – a machine used to create an image of large areas of sea floors and riverbeds – to the search.
“It’s very, very high frequency,” he explained. “It scans the river and I can see every single stick and stone laying on the riverbed.
“[The police] have a side-scan sonar, but...I’m not sure of the frequency that they will be using.
“This is a particularly long stretch of river for them to do, because they’re doubling up as a dive team as well so it’s a huge task for the police.”
In an interview with GB News on Sunday, the underwater forensic expert said he doubted Ms Bulley will be found in the river.
“The amount of searching that’s gone on in this river, I’d have thought she’d be found by now,” he said.
“This is not a fast, tidal river. So I would have expected her to have been found by the police divers by now.
“Apparently sonar’s been used but that’s only as good as the equipment or the operator using them.
“We could have scanned this river within a day and seen if there was a body there – it’s as clear as that.
“None of this rings right to me. My belief is she’s not in the river at all.”
But he added on Monday: “If Nicola is in the river, I’m confident that we’ll find her.
“If she’s not in the river, then obviously we won’t find anything but we’re going to work our hardest, we’ll probably be working under darkness tonight for a while, and that’s my intention to help the family.?”
In a fresh statement, Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith said investigators were “completely dedicated and determined to find Nicola.”
"As a mother myself, I can't even begin to imagine what her two children are going through,” she said.
"Please be reassured that our sole focus is Nicola and that we are doing everything we can to find her.
"It is not possible to provide every piece of information to the public because to do so would detract from the investigation, but I'd like to thank everyone who has assisted us so far and for the support provided to Nicola's family at this extremely difficult time.
"They are being supported and updated throughout."
The force’s Superintendent Sally Riley has previously admitted police are lacking evidence to back up their river theory, with Lancashire Police admitting there is currently “no evidence of a slip or fall” in the area.
Supt Riley told the Sunday Times: “I think if it had been a sloping bank, a commonsense view would be that you would expect to find scuff marks.
“If it is sheer and you lose your footing, you might not have any marks left on the grass. All of that has been subjected to a detailed search.”
She said it is “highly unlikely” that criminal activity took place in such a small time frame.
She added: “This is a low-crime area. It’s genuinely a safe, tight-knit area, people look out for each other. A third-party [being] involved that we haven’t yet had sightings of, we haven’t caught on CCTV or dash-cam or all the other things I’ve mentioned, is just not likely.”
Ms Bulley’s family have also disputed the theory held by police, with her sister Louise Cunningham saying there is “no evidence whatsoever” that she fell into the river and urging people to “keep an open mind”.
On Sunday, a friend of Ms Bulley shared CCTV images of her just hours before she vanished without a trace.
They show her dressed in winter clothing and loading her car before driving her children to school.
Emma White, who released the CCTV images taken on Ms Bulley’s own Ring doorbell, also cast doubt on the police theory Ms Bulley fell in the river, telling Sky News it was based on “limited information”.
Ms Bulley took her daughters, aged nine and six, to school last Friday morning before she disappeared.
The mortgage adviser then took Willow for a walk in St Michael’s on Wyre – around three miles from where she lives.
Ms Bulley had logged in to a Microsoft Teams call at 9.01am, which ended at 9.30am with her phone still connected to the call.
She was seen by another dog walker at 9.10am – the last known sighting – and police traced telephone records of her mobile phone as it remained on a bench overlooking the river at 9.20am.
The device was found by a dog walker at around 9.35am, with Willow nearby.
Anyone who has seen Ms Bulley, or has information about where she might be, is asked to call 101, quoting log 565 of January 30, or call 999 if they have an immediate sighting.