The diving expert who helped search for missing Nicola Bulley this morning revealed he was not asked by police to look in the area where a body was found.
Peter Faulding, 60, and his Specialist Group International team had scoured the River Wyre for three days after she vanished on January 27.
They found no trace of Ms Bulley, who is feared to have been located yesterday in reeds a mile from where she went missing in St Michael’s on Wyre in Lancashire.
But Mr Faulding – who is a registered specialist on the National Crime Database – said a riverbank and wade search would have been the only means to find her there. In fact, these were conducted by Lancashire Police.
His high-tech £55,000 sonar can only scan in the water and cannot travel through reeds.
Peter Faulding, 60, and his Specialist Group International team had scoured the River Wyre for three days after she vanished on January 27
Ms Bulley, left, see here with partner Paul Ansell, is feared to have been located yesterday
Diver Peter Faulding’s robust defence came as Former Scotland Yard Superintendent Nusrit Mehtab (pictured) appeared to back him
Mr Faulding said this morning: ‘Although identification has not been formally confirmed I would like to say my thoughts are with the family and friends of Nicola Bulley at this very difficult time.
‘The SGI underwater search team was tasked with searching the river upstream of the weir in the non-tidal part of the river, past the bench where Nicola’s phone was found and a mile upstream past this point. For three days, using high-frequency side scan sonar, we thoroughly searched the riverbed and can categorically confirm that Nicola was not laying on the riverbed on the days that we searched.
‘We did search the stretch of river where Nicola was [allegedly] found for four hours on our first day and then upstream past the weir on the subsequent two days. The police underwater search teams and land search teams were searching for three full weeks and were also unable to find Nicola. Unfortunately it was a member of the public that made a grim discovery, unconfirmed as yet to be Nicola.
‘Sadly, the discovery was not found in the river but in the reeds at the side of the river which was not part of our remit as the side scan sonar does not penetrate reeds above or below the water. A riverbank and wade search would be the only way to search this area and we were not involved or tasked with that search. The difference between these two search areas has caused a lot of confusion and unfair criticism towards myself and my team at Specialist Group International.
Peter Faulding appeared on Good Morning Britain today to talk about his team’s search
Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith, the senior investigating officer in Ms Bulley’s case, seen at the site yesterday
Police officers walk past flowers and yellow ribbons tied to a bridge for Nicola Bulley over the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, this morning
‘My previous comments saying that if Nicola was in the river, I would find her, still stand. My team and I at SGI did all we could to assist this family with only our best intentions. I am sure I can say this of everyone who has been involved in this difficult search.’
Mr Faulding’s robust defence came as Former Scotland Yard Superintendent Nusrit Mehtab appeared to back him.
She said ‘Some serious questions need to be asked about Lancashire Police’s decision making.
‘How did they miss that? There were three searches and a private search as well.
‘They didn’t share that information with the private search about the vulnerabilities, yet they went on to share it with the wider public.
‘They didn’t seem to be able to get a grip on what was happening.’
Ribbons and flowers are seen on a bench where the phone of missing woman Nicola Bulley was found
Peter Faulding, head of Specialist Group International, a private firm, spent three days searching a stretch of the River Wyre where Nicola Bulley went missing
Despite the best efforts of his team, after three days of searches, the specialist concluded that Ms Bulley was not in the river (pictured on February 7)
Police said they were unable to confirm whether the body recovered on Sunday is that 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.
‘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.’
Forensic expert Peter Faulding had offered his services in the search for the missing mother-of-two Nicola Bulley before starting on the river on February 6.
He had committed before his team from Specialist Group International began that, ‘if there’s a body in the river, our sonar will detect it’.
‘I can find anything with that and if Nicola is here, I am happy that we will find her if she is in the river,’ he said speaking at the scene during searches on February 6.
The expert – who has worked on high-profile cases before, including the 2011 case of Kate Prout – repeated his convictions in other interviews.
But despite the best efforts of his team, after three days of searches, the specialist concluded that Ms Bulley was not in the river.
On Feburary 10, he shared footage of the motionless river as ‘proof’ that she was not in the water.
Speaking of the video footage, Mr Faulding added: ‘The log stayed at that point for 20 minutes, and it actually spiralled and went up six feet and came back to the same place.
‘The river on the day was slightly higher – it was about a foot higher – but I’d be very surprised in my experience [if she was there] as a body usually goes to the bottom very quickly.
‘If Nicola slipped down the bank, she would have landed in about 2ft of water but onto rocks, and she could have stood up.’
Mr Faulding was critical of police searches stretching to Morecambe Bay, as he believed it was ‘impossible’ for a body to have floated that far.
In an interview with the Daily Mail on February 11, he said: ‘I have this natural ability to find things. And if she was there, I would have found her.’
‘I’ve had some criticism, but I can hold my head high: all the high-profile cases I have worked on have been well documented.
‘I’m not a daydreamer, I speak from experience because I’ve been there, I’ve done it,’ he said.
‘I’ve helped countless families over the years who have lost loved ones in baffling circumstances, and I know that the “not knowing” is the worst thing of all.
‘If I can help with that in any way then I will.’
Mr Faulding described some of the conversations he had with members of Ms Bulley’s family, including her partner Paul Ansell.
‘I told him I had to be completely frank with him, and that he needed to confront all options, hard though it was. Nicola was a pretty lady, she was a creature of habit, and she could have been targeted and taken.’
Although there’s no evidence for this, he later also suggested: ‘She could have run off with a lover, she could have walked from the bench to the main road and into a car. It may seem unlikely — but everything about this case seems unlikely.
‘It’s important to be upfront about these things, upsetting though it is. The cases I have worked on — you can’t rule anything out. That’s why I have been brought in.’
Mr Faulding asserted that Nicola Bulley’s case is one of the most baffling in which he has been involved.
‘In 25 years doing search and recovery, I’ve never had anything quite like it,’ he said.
On February 14, Peter Faulding told MailOnline that Ms Bulley would only have ended up in ‘waist-deep’ water if she had fallen into the River Wyre.
‘If she slipped down the bank she wouldn’t go far. The rocks would hold her in place and she’d only have been waist deep. She could have stood there and asked for help because people do walk by.
‘She’d have needed to be pushed extremely hard from behind to have launched herself into the deep water and experienced police divers have searched that thoroughly.’
And on February 15 he slammed police for not disclosing Ms Bulley’s ‘vulnerabilities’, including her battles with alcohol issues.
The search expert said he had conducted his search on the basis that she had fallen into the river and was frustrated that police had not shared that Ms Bulley may have entered the river in another manner.
Mr Faulding told Jeremy Kyle on TalkTV that: ‘If she had jumped in, intended to take her own life or walk off, that would change my whole plan.
‘She could have ended up in the sea.’
Speaking to The Times, Mr Faulding said: ‘I find it absolutely outrageous this was not shared with me.
‘It’s disgraceful and someone needs to take responsibility for this.’
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 ten 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 the Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, as well as the 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.
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), say his team will begin 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 ten 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.
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk