Police have found a body in the search for missing mother-of-two Nicola Bulley after a tip-off from walkers, more than three weeks after she disappeared.
A huge search operation was launched this morning at a spot less than a mile from where the 45-year-old went missing in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire.
Senior Investigating Officer Rebecca Smith was seen arriving at the scene as Lancashire Police confirmed the discovery.
The force said they were unable to confirm whether the body is of missing Ms Bulley at this time as they wait for formal identification to be carried out.
A spokesman said: ‘We were called today at 11.36am to reports of a body in the River Wyre, close to Rawcliffe Road.
A police diving team at the River Wyre near St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, on Sunday as police continue their search for missing woman Nicola Bulley, 45
Around a dozen vehicles remain at the scene where police located a body
The 45-year-old mortgage adviser Nicola Bulley (pictured) vanished during a dog walk in St Michael’s on Wyre
‘An underwater search team and specialist officers have subsequently attended the scene, entered the water and have sadly recovered a body.
‘No formal identification has yet been carried out, so we are unable to say whether this is Nicola Bulley at this time.
‘Procedures to identify the body are on-going. We are currently treating the death as unexplained.
‘Nicola’s family have been informed of developments and our thoughts are with them at this most difficult of times. We ask that their privacy is respected.’
A tent has been erected and a wide cordon remains in place.
Police scrambled a huge search after the two walkers spotted the body. Detective superintendent Smith arrived moments before police confirmed the heartbreaking discovery.
The male walker was seen ashen faced as he talked to police and pointed at an outcrop of trees and undergrowth along the bank, saying: ‘There’s definitely a body there’.
By 1pm on Sunday police drones and a helicopter hovered over the outcrop of trees and undergrowth, while police divers took to the banks of the river Wyre.
Soon afterwards, Lancashire Police confirmed that a body had been located in the river.
A member of the public today appears to point towards a spot in the undergrowth by the river Wyre while police watch on
At least three police cars and a van rushed to the scene, with other cars soon following
Police erected a tent (left) at the scene shortly before they confirmed the discovery of a body
Before the discovery was confirmed, a witness said: ‘I drove down Rawcliffe Road for almost a mile. I noticed a man and a woman and two police officers on the embankment.
‘I pulled off at about 11.50am and I heard the man talking to police about something in the undergrowth.
‘Police cars were flying down the road with the blues and twos going. A police officer pulled up a few minutes later and got his drone out.
‘Five minutes later the police helicopter arrived. Officers then asked to me get out so I moved 200 yards down the road.
‘I could still clearly see the man pointing at the riverbank. Then more police cars raced down with the blues and twos going. They cleared the entire road.’
The man and woman were later seen sat on a wall by the scene looking ashen faced and vaping.
The 45-year-old mother-of-two was last seen on January 27 while walking her dog by the river in St Michael’s-on-Wyre after dropping her daughters – aged six and nine – at school.
A massive police presence descended on the village three weeks ago with dozens of officers, divers, search experts and high-tech equipment including drones.
Specialist searchers including Peter Faulding, who scoured the river using sonar equipment, also spent days in the area.
Mr Faulding took the unusual move of publicly stating he did not believe Ms Bulley was in the river, as it was so shallow she could simply have ‘stood up’ if she fell in.
After the news of Sunday’s discovery, Mr Faulding tweeted: ‘Our thoughts are with Nicola’s family and friends at this difficult time.’
Police officers were seen pointing towards the river from a vantage point next to a CSI van
Multiple police cars were pictured at the scene as the helicopter flew overhead
Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith, the senior investigating officer in Ms Bulley’s case, arrives at the scene of the search
Police officers and divers were pictured at the scene on Sunday afternoon, although it is unclear what, if anything, has been found
Lancashire Police issued the update on its Facebook page and requested Ms Bulley’s family’s privacy be respected
Her partner Paul Ansell, 44, has maintained hope she is still alive despite officers saying their main working hypothesis remains that Ms Bulley is in the river.
Ms Bulley vanished after dropping off her daughters, aged six and nine, at school on January 27 in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire.
She was last seen at 9.10am taking her usual route with her springer spaniel Willow, alongside the River Wyre, shortly after dropping her girls, aged nine and six, off at school.
Her phone, still connected to a work call, was found just over 20 minutes later on a bench overlooking the riverbank, with her dog running loose.
Speaking about the new search, former Scotland Yard Detective Peter Bleksley told Sky News: ‘If ever there’s a sign of information that is received by the police… then seeing lots of resources deployed in a fairly short space of time is not uncommon.’
A police helicopter is reported to have circled overhead for around 25 minutes
Diving and search specialists discuss the situation with one another from the side of the bank
Four members of the police appeared to be involved in a search of the River Wyre on Sunday
A Lancashire officer observes the ground near to the spot the two walkers pointed police to
A police helicopter was pictured over St Michael’s on Wyre for the first time in days
Nicola Bulley, 45, from Inskip, Lancashire, was last seen on the morning of Friday January 27, when she was spotted walking her dog on a footpath by the River Wyre off Garstang Road in St Michael’s on Wrye
Nicola Bulley’s sister shared a heartbreaking message on Friday, appealing for Ms Bulley to ‘come home now’
A police helicopter hovers over the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire today as police continue their search for missing woman Nicola Bulley
Underwater search expert Peter Faulding scans the River Wyre using sonar equipment earlier this month
The last time Nicola Bulley was caught on CCTV she was accompanied by Willow on the morning of her disappearance
On February 3, Lancashire Police told the public of its main hypothesis that Ms Bulley had fallen into the River Wyre in a ’10-minute window’ between 9.10am and 9.20am on the day she disappeared.
But multiple experts and Ms Bulley’s own family said they did not believe this to be true.
This week they held a second press conference in which they referenced individual ‘vulnerabilities’ that meant she had immediately been classed as a ‘high-risk’ missing persons case.
But hours later they issued a shock statement detailing Ms Bulley’s struggles with alcohol, brought on by significant symptoms of being peri-menopausal and having stopped taking her HRT medication.
Ms Bulley’s family said in a statement on Friday that they feared her decision to stop taking her hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drugs may have played a factor in her disappearance.
‘Due to the perimenopause Nikki suffered with significant side effects such as brain fog, restless sleep and was taking HRT to help but this was giving her intense headaches which caused Nikki to stop taking the HRT thinking that may have helped her but only ended up causing this crisis,’ the statement said.
They added: ‘Nikki is such a wonderful daughter, sister, partner and mother and is missed dearly – we all need you back in our lives.
‘Nikki, we hope you are reading this and know that we love you so much and your girls want a cuddle. We all need you home.’
Today’s news came after it was revealed overnight one of the UK’s top detectives was personally advising Lancashire Police on the case.
The unnamed detective from the NCA, often referred to as Britain’s FBI, has worked on some of the UK’s most high-profile cases including killer and morgue monster David Fuller and the murder of PCSO Julia James, the organisation told MailOnline.
The police have so far failed to find Ms Bulley, 45, after she vanished without a trace while walking her springer spaniel, named Willow, more than three weeks ago.
Lancashire Police have also received the aid of a forensic psychologist and dog behavioural expert.
It comes amid fierce criticism of police for releasing personal health details about Ms Bulley this week, including from Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt and PM Rishi Sunak.
Criticism of the force has been mounting since the 45-year-old’s disappearance on January 27.
Police officers have been combing the area for more than three weeks for the missing mother
Officers spent hours trawling the river, riverbanks and fields nearby
Police search teams on the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire on February 5
Ms Bulley’s phone was found on this bench in St Michael’s on Wyre, with Willow’s harness on the floor nearby
Specialist Group International, led by Peter Faulding, search a stretch of the River Wyre where Nicola Pulley went missing at St Michael’s on Wyre
Lancashire Police have launched a probe into their investigation, which appears to have stalled, but have raised questions by not taking up offers from other forces such as the Metropolitan Police to conduct the review instead.
This week police publicly divulged information about Nicola Bulley’s battles with alcohol brought on by the menopause – a decision critics blasted as ‘sexist’.
Former police officers have also questioned why basic actions such as closing off the area where Ms Bulley’s phone and dog were discovered for forensic examination were not completed.
The force has confirmed a date has been set for the internal review, which will be conducted by their Head of Crime, Detective Chief Superintendent Pauline Stables – but that date has not been made public.
On Friday Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley offered to conduct a review on behalf of the force, but Lancashire Police were criticised after deciding to do it themselves.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has also received a referral from the force regarding the contact officers had with Ms Bulley on January 10 – before she went missing.
Meanwhile PM Rishi Sunak, speaking about the release of personal details after Lancashire Police announced it will conduct an internal review, said he is ‘pleased police are looking at how that happened in the investigation’.
Timeline: Disappearance of Nicola Bulley
At 8.26am Ms Bulley left her home with her two daughters, aged six and nine, dropping them off at school.
She then took her spaniel, Willow, for a walk along the path by the River Wyre at 8.43am, heading towards a gate and bench 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 the force.
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.
She was seen by a second witness at 9.10am, the last known sighting.
Her phone was back in the area of the bench at 9.20am before the Teams call ended 10 minutes later, with her mobile remaining logged on after the call.
At 10.50am, Ms Bulley’s family and the school attended by her children were told about her disappearance.
Lancashire Constabulary launched an investigation into Ms Bulley’s whereabouts on the same day and appealed for witnesses to contact them.
Lancashire Constabulary deployed drones, helicopters and police search dogs as part of the major missing person operation.
They were assisted by Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, as well as Bowland Pennine mountain rescue team and the North West underwater search team.
Local residents held a meeting at the village hall to organise a search for Ms Bulley at 10.30am on Sunday, according to reports from The Mirror, and around 100 people joined in.
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’
Superintendent Sally Riley from Lancashire Constabulary said police were ‘keeping a really open mind about what could have happened’, and that they were not treating Ms Bulley’s disappearance as suspicious.
January 31 Lancashire Constabulary spoke with a potential witness, a man who had been walking a small white fluffy dog near the River Wyre at the time of Ms Bulley’s disappearance.
Her family 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’.
Lancashire Constabulary spoke with a second witness who they had identified with the help of the public using CCTV but they told police they did not have any further information to aid their inquiry.
Officers from the North West Police Underwater and Marine support unit searched the area close to where Ms Bulley’s mobile phone was found, while police divers scoured the River Wyre. Meanwhile, Ms Bulley’s family appealed to the public for help tracing her.
Lancashire Police said it was working on the hypothesis that Ms Bulley may have fallen into the River Wyre.
Ms Riley urged against speculation, but said it was ‘possible’ that an ‘issue’ with Ms Bulley’s dog may have led her to the water’s edge.
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 woman described as a ‘key witness’ by police came forward. The force insisted she was ‘very much being treated as a witness’ as it warned against ‘totally unacceptable’ speculation and abuse on social media.
Peter Faulding, leader of underwater search experts Specialist Group International (SGI), began searching the river after being called in by Ms Bulley’s family.
Ms Bulley’s friends said they hoped the help of a specialist underwater rescue team would give the family answers.
Meanwhile, Ms Bulley’s partner Mr Ansell, 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.’
Police urged people to refrain from indulging in commentary and conspiracy theories about Ms Bulley’s disappearance as speculation increases online.
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.’
They later disclosed Ms Bulley’s struggles with alcohol and perimenopause.
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.
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.
Ms Braverman met with police leaders to discuss the handling of the investigation after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also expressed ‘concerns’ about the revelation.
Appearing on the morning 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.
A new search effort was launched less than a mile from where Ms Bulley vanished.
Later on Sunday, Lancashire Police announced they had found a body in the River Wyre.