Nicola Bulley: Timeline of events as Lancashire Police commissioner publishes independent review into her death

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As an independent review into the Nicola Bulley investigation is published, we look back at the full timeline of the tragic mum’s disappearance and death.

You can watch the press conference as it happens via our live feed here.

We also invite readers to watch our documentary, 'The Disappearance of Nicola Bulley', which airs this evening (Tuesday, November 21) at 8.20pm on Shots! - Freeview channel 276.

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Day 1: Friday, January 27

Nicola was last seen on Friday, January 27, and police have managed to piece together most of her movements from the morning, including when and where she was last spotted.

At 8.26am, she left home with her two daughters, aged six and nine. She dropped them off at school, where she had a brief conversation with another parent. She then headed to the River Wyre to walk her dog Willow.

At 8.43am, she walked along the river path heading towards a gate in the lower field. She was seen by a dog walker who knew her at around 8.50am, and their pets interacted briefly before they parted ways, according to police.

At 8.53am, Ms Bulley sent an email to her boss, followed by a message to her friends six minutes later, before logging on to a Microsoft Teams call at 9.01am.

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The last known sighting of her was at around 9.10am, although it is not known exactly when. She was seen by someone she knows walking Willow on the upper field.

At around 9.20am, her phone was back in the area of the bench. Her Teams call ended ten minutes later but her mobile remained logged on after the call finished.

At 9.33am, another dog walker found her phone on a bench beside the river, with Willow darting between the two. At 10.50am, Ms Bulley’s family and the school attended by her children were told about her disappearance.

Lancashire Police launched an investigation into Ms Bulley’s whereabouts on the same day and appealed for witnesses to come forward with any information.

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Day 2: Saturday, January 28

The day after Nicola was reported missing, Lancashire Police launched a major missing persons operation. The force deployed drones, helicopters and police search dogs to scour the area for any signs of Nicola's whereabouts.

Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, the Bowland Pennine mountain rescue team and the North West underwater search team were also drafted in to help with the search.

Day 3: Sunday, January 29

Local residents reportedly held a meeting at the village hall on Sunday morning to organise their own search. Around 100 people from the local area joined in the hunt to look for Nicola.

Police urged volunteers to exercise caution, describing the river and its banks as “extremely dangerous” and saying that activity in these areas presented “a genuine risk to the public”.

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Day 4: Monday, January 30

In an update on Monday, police said they were keeping an “open mind” as to lines of enquiry, but they believed Nicola had gone missing as opposed to being involved in some sort of crime.

Superintendent Sally Riley from Lancashire Police asked anyone who may have been driving through the village of St Michael’s on the morning she disappeared, or people who may have been dog-walking in the area, to come forward with information.

She told reporters: “The dog was found about an hour later, as was her mobile phone, so her family are very concerned, as are we. We’ve mounted a really intensive operation to try to find Nicola.” She also confirmed that the phone was discovered on a bench near the riverbank while the dog was found loose between the river and the bench.

Meanwhile, Nicola’s partner Paul Ansell spoke to reporters from the family home in Inskip, Lancashire, about the family's grief. He said he spent all of the previous day searching for the mother-of-two.

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The engineer, who has been in a relationship with Ms Bulley for 12 years, said: “It is just perpetual hell. It is just utter disbelief. We are living through this but it doesn’t feel real. All we can say is we need to find her. She’s got two little girls that need their mummy home."

Day 5: Tuesday, January 31

On Tuesday, Lancashire Police appealed to find a man who was believed to have been in the area at the time Nicola was last seen.

Police said the man, who was walking a small white fluffy dog on a lead, had spoken to a woman in the area who found Nicola’s dog, before he walked in the direction of Rowanwater. Police later confirmed that the potential witness had come forward and been spoken to.

Nicola's family also released a statement saying they had been “overwhelmed by the support” in their community, and that her daughters were “desperate to have their mummy back home safe”.

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Day 6: Wednesday, February 1

Nicola's parents spoke to the press about their “dread” at the thought of never seeing her again. Ernest and Dot Bulley also spoke of hearing their grandchildren “sobbing their hearts out” after being told “mummy is lost”.

Ernest, 73, and Dot, 72, told the Mirror their daughter was in good spirits and her disappearance was totally out of character. Ernest said: “There was no sign of a slip or falling in, so our thought was ‘has somebody got her?’ I asked the sergeant from Fleetwood a few days ago, ‘Is there any chance of her being taken?’ and she said, ‘I don’t think that’s the case’."

Day 7: Thursday, February 2

Lancashire Police tracked down a second witness, who they had identified with the help of the public using CCTV. However, they told police they did not have any further information to aid their inquiry.

The police also issued a timeline of her last movements, in the hope that it may jog the memory of anyone who was in the area at the time.

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Officers from the North West Police Underwater and Marine support unit searched the area close to where Nicola’s mobile phone was found, while police divers scoured the River Wyre.

Meanwhile, Nicola's family appealed to the public for help tracing her. Speaking with Sky News, her sister Louise Cunningham said: “There has got to be somebody who knows something and all we are asking is, no matter how small or big, if there is anything you remember that doesn’t seem right, then please reach out to the police. Get in touch and get my sister back.”

Day 8: Friday, February 3

Lancashire Police held a press conference, and Supt Riley confirmed that the force's main hypothesis was that Nicola had fallen into the River Wyre. She urged against speculation, but said it was “possible” that an “issue” with Nicola’s dog may have led her to the water’s edge.

She urged the public to look out for items of clothing Ms Bulley was last seen wearing, and gave an extensive list of the items she is believed to have had on her, including her light blue Fitbit.

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Supt Riley said a massive amount of police resources had been used to search the surface and under the water of the river and surrounding farmland – including divers, drones and helicopters. She also tells the conference that after tracing local CCTV, dashcam and doorbell camera footage, police are confident she did not leave the area near the river.

More of Nicola's friends spoke to the press. Emma White told the BBC that Nicola’s daughters were continually asking where she was. Partner Paul said he would “never lose hope” of finding her.

Day 9: Saturday, February 4

In a Facebook post, Louise urged people to “keep an open mind” as there is “no evidence whatsoever” that her sister fell in the river.

On the same day, Lancashire Police announced it wanted to trace a “key witness” who was seen pushing a pram in the area near where Ms Bulley went missing on the morning of her disappearance. The force later said the woman had come forward “very quickly”.

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Day 10: Sunday, February 5

Reports of a private underwater rescue team set to assist police surfaced. It emerged that Peter Faudling's specialist diving team, SGI, would be brought in to help.

The team had offered their services free of charge to the family.

Day 11: Monday, February 6

SGI begin their investigations but Mr Faulding said the team did not find anything at the end of their first day of searching. He said his team would be looking through another stretch of river the following day “towards where Nicola went originally missing”.

Meanwhile, Paul, in a statement released through Lancashire Police, said: “It’s been 10 days now since Nicola went missing and I have 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.”

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Day 12: Tuesday, February 7

Supt Riley held another press conference. She said the force were still working on the theory that Nicola had fallen into the river, and there was no suggestion of any criminal element in the case.

She said “every single” potential suspicion or criminal suggestion that had come in, had been looked at by detectives and discounted. “It does remain our belief that Nicola sadly fell into the river and that this is a missing persons inquiry," she said.

The National Crime Agency had also looked at the investigation by Lancashire Police and had also failed to identify any other suspicious line of inquiry, she said.

Police also said it is still a “possibility” she left the area by one path not covered by cameras, which is crossed by the main road through the village, and said officers were trying to trace dashcam footage from 700 drivers who passed along the road at the time she disappeared.

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Supt Riley described the search for Nicola as “unprecedented”, with a team of 40 detectives investigating 500 different lines of inquiry and police receiving “thousands” of pieces of information.

She asked people, particularly online, not to speculate as to what might have happened, and also warned the public not to break into empty or derelict properties along the river by trying to help with the search.

Supt Riley also responded to comments from Mr Faulding after he suggested he doesn't think Nicola will be found in the river. She said: “Our search has not found Nicola in the river and then a re-search in parts by SGI has found the same. That does not mean… that Nicola has not been in the river."

She added: “Clearly Mr Faulding isn’t included within all the investigation detail any more than the members of the public are that I’m briefing through these sorts of press conferences."

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Day 13: Wednesday, February 8

Mr Faulding confirmed that his diving team would end their involvement in the search after being "100 per cent" sure that Nicola was not in the area of the river they had been searching. He said he was “baffled” by the case.

Mr Faulding said efforts had proved “negative” and told reporters: “Normally we find them, this is an unusual situation. And hopefully Nicola will appear somewhere or pop up somewhere, I don’t know. But with that, I’m, I’m totally baffled by this one, to be honest."

He added: “Normally a drowning victim goes to the bottom. There was a bit of flow on the river that day. But normally we recover them within a few metres.”

Nicola's partner Paul also visited the site and spoke to Mr Faudling. He spent around 10 minutes close to a bench overlooking the River Wyre speaking to the diving expert about what they had found.

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Lancashire Police and the Coastguard, including divers, then began focusing on the 10 miles or so of river downstream of the bench, where the River Wyre empties into the sea at Morecambe Bay.

Day 14: Thursday, February 9

Lancashire Police was granted a dispersal order to break up groups of people reportedly filming in the village. Police urged people to refrain from indulging in commentary and conspiracy theories about Ms Bulley’s disappearance as speculation increases online.

Day 15: Friday, February 10

Paul Ansell said the family was going through “unprecedented hell”, but that he would never give up hope of finding her.

Emma White, a friend of Nicola’s, said the search for the missing woman in St Michael’s on Wyre had been “like torture”.

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Meanwhile, police again make public appeals urging people to refrain from ‘harmful speculation’ and conspiracy theories online.

Day 17: Sunday, February 12

Friends and family left yellow ribbons with handwritten messages on a bridge close to where she disappeared.

Ribbons with messages including “We need you home Nicola”, “praying for your safe return” and “I love you” were tied to a footbridge over the River Wyre.

A large poster with a photograph of Nicola was also attached to the railings.

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Day 18: Monday, February 13

Wyre Council removed councillors’ contact details from its website due to “inappropriate emails and phone calls” about Ms Bulley’s disappearance.

It also temporarily removed contact details for “parish and town council members”.

Day 19: Tuesday, February 14

Two people were arrested on suspicion of sending malicious communications.

Day 20: Wednesday, February 15

Police held a press conference over the case and say the mother-of-two was classed as a “high-risk” missing person immediately after she was reported missing due to “vulnerabilities.”

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They later disclosed Ms Bulley’s struggles with alcohol and perimenopause.

Day 21: Thursday, February 16

In a statement released through Lancashire Police, Ms Bulley’s family said the focus had become “distracted from finding Nikki, and more about speculation and rumours into her private life” and called for it to end.

Lancashire Police referred itself to the police watchdog over contact the force had with Ms Bulley prior to her disappearance.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman demanded an “explanation” for the disclosure of Ms Bulley’s private information by the force.

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Day 22: Friday, February 17

Lancashire Police announced it was conducting an internal review into the handling of Ms Bulley’s disappearance and the Information Commissioner said he would ask the force questions about the disclosure.

Day 23: Saturday, February 18

Ms Braverman met with police leaders to discuss the handling of the investigation after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also expressed “concerns” over police revelations about her health and private life.

Day 24: Sunday, February 19

A body was found in the River Wyre by Jason Dean Rothwell, a spiritual medium from Oldham, Greater Manchester. He spotted the body about one mile (1.6 km) downstream of a bench beside the river where Ms Bulley was last seen with her dog in the village of St Michael's on Wyre three weeks prior.

Mr Rothwell informed the police and the body was subsequently recovered from reeds and undergrowth. Police set up a tent beside the river and a police helicopter operated above the area as some members of the public tried to take photos of the body by climbing over a fence and pretending to be journalists.

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Earlier that day, appearing on the morning TV broadcast round, Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt described the police disclosure as “shocking” while shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, who also wrote to the force over its handling of the case, repeated her concerns about the “unusual” level of private information made public about Ms Bulley.

Day 25: Monday, February 20

Lancashire confirmed the body was Ms Bulley after she was identified from dental records.

In a statement, Ms Bulley’s family said she was “the centre of our world”, adding they would “never be able to comprehend what Nikki had gone through in her last moments and that will never leave us”.

Her family also thanked the community for its support but sharply criticized national news media who they said had violated their privacy.

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“They again, have taken it upon themselves to run stories about us to sell papers and increase their own profiles,” the statement said. “It is shameful they have acted in this way. Leave us alone now.”

The aftermath

Wednesday, February 22

A brief inquest was opened at Preston coroner's court by senior coroner James Adeley. Once identification was confirmed, the proceedings were adjourned.

Thursday, February 23

A candlelit vigil was held for Ms Bulley in her former hometown of South Woodham Ferrers in Essex, with one organiser saying that the family “still hold a massive piece of all of our hearts” despite having previously moved up north. A large mural of Ms Bulley by local artist Danny Bench was also unveiled.

Saturday, February 25

Peter Faulding’s team of divers, Specialist Group International, was suspended from the National Crime Agency’s Expert Adviser Database while a review was carried out.

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Wednesday, March 8

Lancashire Police arrested a man over footage shot inside a police cordon on the day Ms Bulley’s body was found. The 34-year-old from Kidderminster was arrested on suspicion of malicious communications offences and perverting the course of justice.

Tuesday, April 4

Police divers were spotted in the River Wyre and a brief clip was uploaded to YouTube. Lancashire Police later confirmed that its officers were “carrying out some work on the direction of HM coroner”, ahead of the inquest set for June 26 at County Hall in Preston.

Monday, June 26

An inquest was heard and revealed that Ms Bulley's mobile phone and Fitbit watch data suggested she entered the water at 9.22am. The cause of her death was established as accidental drowning.

The coroner concluded that there was no evidence that she had been harmed before she went into the water or intended to enter the river.