Nicola Bulley was alive when she fell in the River Wyre, had not been drinking and died by drowning with no sign of foul play, her inquest heard today.
Dr Alison Armour, giving evidence at an inquest at County Hall in Preston, that there was ‘no evidence’ she was harmed before the mother-of two vanished on January 27.
Ms Bulley’s partner Paul Ansell and her family attended her inquest this morning. Dr James Adeley, senior coroner for Lancashire, told members of her family, who were in court: ‘I’m sorry that you are attending this court under these circumstances.’ He was told to refer to Ms Bulley as Nikki during the hearing.
She died as a result of drowning and was alive when she fell into the water, a Home Office pathologist has said.
Dr Alison Armour, giving evidence at an inquest at County Hall in Preston, said watery fluid and fragments of dirt found inside Ms Bulley’s body were ‘typical features we see in cases of drowning’.
She added that Ms Bulley was alive when she entered the water and that there was ‘no evidence’ she was harmed. Nikki had not been drinking before her death, a Home Office pathologist said.
Dr Adeley asked Dr Alison Armour, who was giving evidence at an inquest at County Hall in Preston: ‘At the time of her death she had no alcohol in her bloodstream?’ Dr Armour replied: ‘That’s my opinion.’
Mother-of-two Nicola Bulley, 45, vanished while walking her dog in Lancashire on January 27
Paul Ansell, Ms Bulley’s partner of 12 years, gave TV interviews appealing for help
A police diving team at the River Wyre near St Michael’s-on-Wyre in Lancashire on February 19
The 45-year-old mortgage adviser’s body was found in the River Wyre in Lancashire on February 19 – around a mile from where she vanished on January 27.
Ms Bulley’s phone was found on a bench overlooking the water in the village of St Michael’s-on-Wyre, while still connected to a work Teams call.
Her disappearance after taking her usual dog walk led to intense public interest, a conspiratorial social media frenzy, criticism of police and questions in Parliament.
Ms Bulley, originally from near Chelmsford but living in Inskip, was immediately deemed a ‘high risk’ missing person, sparking a huge police search operation, with hundreds of local search volunteers and intense media and public interest.
Private underwater search specialists were also called in by her family amid social media speculation fuelling waves of sightseers and content creators visiting the scene.
Police and TV broadcasters faced criticism after her body was found in the river around a mile downstream from the bench, on February 19.
Officers had urged people not to speculate about the disappearance and maintained from early on there were no suspicious circumstances and that Ms Bulley may have gone into the water due to an ‘issue’ with her springer spaniel, Willow.
Ms Bulley’s family and friends said they did not believe the police ‘theory’ and urged people to continue searching.
A PSCO walks towards an appeal poster for Ms Bulley in St Michael’s-on-Wyre in February
Assistant Chief Constable Peter Lawson (left) and Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith (right) of Lancashire Police update the media in St Michael’s-on-Wyre on February 15
Paul Ansell, her partner of 12 years, gave TV interviews appealing for help – saying their daughters wanted their mummy home.
As the days passed and speculation continued online, Lancashire Police revealed Ms Bulley had struggled with alcohol and perimenopause.
This prompted widespread criticism for disclosing her personal information, with Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak questioned about the police approach and the force facing investigation.
On February 19, Lancashire Police revealed a body had been found in the river after it was called earlier that day to an area about a mile from where Ms Bulley vanished.
An independent review of Lancashire Police’s handling of the case is currently under way by the College of Policing, ordered by Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Andrew Snowden.
Friends of Ms Bulley hold missing person appeal posters in St Michael’s-on-Wyre in February
A search on the River Wyre in Lancashire after Ms Bulley went missing earlier this year
Part of the review will include inquiries made by the Information Commissioner’s Office over the force’s disclosure of Ms Bulley’s personal information.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct also looked at a welfare check on Ms Bulley carried out by police 17 days before she went missing.
Media watchdog Ofcom is also in contact with both ITV and Sky after criticism of the broadcasters by Ms Bulley’s family.
The inquest, expected to last two days, will begin today at the County Hall, Preston, before Dr James Adeley, Senior Coroner for Lancashire.
Timeline of events surrounding disappearance of Nicola Bulley
The disappearance of Nicola Bulley led to intense public interest, a conspiratorial social media frenzy, criticism of police and media and questions in Parliament.
Her body was found in the River Wyre on February 19 around a mile from where the mother-of-two, aged 45, vanished, while walking her dog in St Michael’s on the Wyre, Lancashire, on January 27.
Here is a timeline of events after her disappearance:
– January 27
- 8.26am – Ms Bulley left her home with her two daughters, aged six and nine, dropping them off at school and engaging in a brief conversation with another parent around 15 minutes later.
- 8.43am – She then took her spaniel, Willow, for a walk along the path by the River Wyre.
- 8.50am – A dog walker who knew her saw her, and their pets interacted briefly before they parted ways.
- 8.53am – Ms Bulley sent an email to her boss, followed by a message to her friends six minutes later.
- 9.01am – She logs on to a work Microsoft Teams call.
- 9.10am – Last known sighting of Ms Bulley by a second witness.
- 9.20am – Her phone was back in the area of the bench before the Teams call ended ten minutes later, with her mobile remaining logged on after the call.
- 9.33am – Another dog walker found her phone on a bench beside the river, with her dog darting between the two.
- 10.50am – Ms Bulley’s family and the school attended by her children were told about her disappearance. Police are called and she is deemed a ‘high-risk’ missing person.
– January 28
- Lancashire Constabulary deployed drones, helicopters and police search dogs as part of the major missing person operation.
– January 29
- Around 100 locals meet in the village hall to organise a search party. Police urge caution, describing the river and its banks as ‘extremely dangerous’.
– January 30
- Police hold first press conference. Superintendent Sally Riley, from Lancashire Constabulary, said officers 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
- Ms Bulley’s family release 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’.
– February 1
- Ms Bulley’s parents, Ernest and Dot Bulley, tell the Daily Mirror of the ‘horror’ they face over the possibility of never seeing her again.
– February 2
- Officers from the North West Police Underwater and Marine support unit search the area close to where Ms Bulley’s mobile phone was found.
– February 3
- Lancashire Police said it was working on the hypothesis that Ms Bulley may have fallen into the River Wyre.
- Supt 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.
– February 4
- Ms Bulley’s friend, Emma White, cast doubt on the police theory that she fell into a river, telling Sky News it was based on ‘limited information’.
- In a Facebook post, Ms Bulley’s sister Louise Cunningham urged people to ‘keep an open mind’ as there is ‘no evidence whatsoever’ her sister fell in the river.
– February 5
- Peter Faulding, leader of underwater search experts Specialist Group International (SGI), began three days of searching the river after being called in by Ms Bulley’s family – but nothing is found.
– February 6
- Ms Bulley’s partner Paul 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.’
– February 10
- Police urged people to refrain from indulging in commentary and conspiracy theories about Ms Bulley’s disappearance as speculation increases online.
– February 15
- Police hold a press conference at force HQ and reveal Ms Bulley was classed as a ‘high-risk’ missing person immediately after she was reported missing due to ‘vulnerabilities’.
- They later ‘clarify’ the vulnerabilities and disclose Ms Bulley’s struggles with alcohol and perimenopause.
– 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.
- Home Secretary Suella Braverman demanded an ‘explanation’ over the disclosure of Ms Bulley’s private information by the force, following growing criticism of the move.
– 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.
– February 18
- Ms Braverman met with police leaders to discuss the handling of the investigation after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also expressed ‘concerns’ about the revelations into Ms Bulley’s private life.
– February 19
- At 2.32pm, Lancashire Police reveals a body has been found in the river after it was called earlier that day at 11.36am to an area of the River Wyre, about a mile from where Ms Bulley first disappeared.
– February 20
- The force confirmed the body had been identified as Ms Bulley.
- In a statement, Ms Bulley’s family said she was ‘the centre of our world’.
– June 26
- Inquest into the death of Nicola Bulley begins at County Hall, Preston.