The partner of missing mother-of-two Nicola Bulley paid an emotional visit to the last place she was seen today – as a super high-tech sonar camera scoured the riverbed in search of a potential body some 12 days after she vanished.
Paul Ansell, 44, was pictured with diving expert Peter Faulding who told the anxious father ‘she’s not here’ during a third extensive day of searching along the River Wyre in Lancashire.
The pair were joined by a senior detective and a friend of Nicola, who listened attentively as Mr Faulding explained how the water where police believe the 45-year-old drowned was particularly shallow.
It comes as a video obtained by MailOnline shows Mr Faulding’s sonar device scanning either side of the riverbank near St. Michael’s on Wyre, where Nicola is feared to have fallen in.
The only sound that can be heard on the short clip is the outboard motor on the rear of the inflatable dinghy as the search team slowly meanders along the twisting river. The side scan sonar is able to ‘see’ to the bottom of the river and any major obstacle in its way would be detected on the film.
Paul Ansell, 44, was pictured with diving expert Peter Faulding who told the anxious father ‘she’s not here’, during a third extensive day of searching along the River Wyre in Lancashire
Workers from a private underwater search and recovery company, Specialist Group International, including chief executive Peter Faulding (top), analyse their sonar machine
Nicola Bulley (pictured with her partner Paul) vanished while walking her dog Willow along the riverbed on January 27, moments after dropping her two children off at school. She was last seen at 9.10am by a fellow dogwalker, before her phone and her pup’s harness were found on a nearby bench at around 9.20am, and the alarm was raised
The video was provided by Mr Faulding, who leads the Specialist Group International (SGI) – a private team of expert divers who have been roped into the search – to show the effectiveness of the sonar, while bolstering his firmly held opinion that Nicola’s body is not in the water.
Nicola vanished while walking her dog Willow along the riverbed near St Michael’s on the Wyre on January 27, moments after dropping her two children off at school. She was last seen at 9.10am by a fellow dogwalker, before her phone and her pup’s harness were found on a nearby bench at around 9.20am, and the alarm was raised.
It is during this 10-minute window that police maintain she fell into the water, while others – including some friends and Mr Faulding – have their doubts, which they have not hesitated to share.
Vigilantes, too, have their own theories, and have been warned to stop meddling or face arrest after ‘breaking into empty properties’ in a desperate bid to solve the mystery that has captivated the nation.
Superintendent Sally Riley said last night that ‘whilst it may be well-intentioned’, forcing entry into abandoned and derelict homes along the River Wyre could see amateur sleuths charged with burglary or criminal damage.
Despite extensive searches by both police and the private SGI team, the authorities have not been able to find a body. A team of 40 detectives are working on the missing persons investigation and they are pursuing 500 lines of inquiry.
The latest sonar video was taken on day 12 of the search for Nicola, when Mr Faulding and his team searched close to the wooden bench where her mobile phone and dog Willow were found.
Divers have begun to search close to the estuary as the search for Nicola Bulley expands due to fears she may have floated downstream towards Fleetwood and out to the Irish Sea
Mr Faulding remains convinced that if he is to find a body it will be in the area close to where police say Nicola fell into the water.
The expert took MailOnline to the scene and pointed out that the water was fairly shallow – no deeper than 3ft – and covered with jagged rocks.
He said: ‘If this is where Nicola fell in you can see that the water is not particularly deep. There are lots of rocks and if she was in the water she would be able to grab hold of them.
‘No one heard any shouts for help and I just can’t see how she could drown here.
‘The only possibility is that she fell head first and was knocked out on the rocks, but I don’t see how that could happen.’
Lancashire Police are working on the hypothesis that Nicola slipped into the water and drowned.
They have extended their search 10 miles away towards Fleetwood and the Irish Sea in the belief her body has been swept away from the point of entry in the village of St Michael’s on the Wyre.
Mr Faulding disputes the police theory that the body could have ended up so far away and in the Irish Sea.
Based on his 20 years of experience in finding drowning victims he insisted her body would have remained at the bottom of the river for several days and police would have found her.
His suggestion that a ‘third party’ could be involved and abducted the mother-of-two has put him at loggerheads with the police investigation.
The SGI team plan to search the river today and will pack up their equipment and leave the scene if they fail to find any evidence of her body in the water.
Mr Faulding and his team will use their sonar to look around a weir about 200 metres from the main search area.
He said: ‘We want to sonar the first stretch of the river and if nothing is there then I am happy there is nothing there.
‘My opinion is had Nicola gone in by that bench she would have gone to the bottom and drifted a couple of meters. The police divers who are very professional thoroughly searched that stretch of river and she wasn’t there. There is hardly any current and in my experience, bodies do not move very far.
‘It is not feasible that she could have drifted 15km, not in my experience and this type of tidal river. Things get washed in and washed out. It is very shallow. There is nowhere to go.’
The SGI team have been using a side scan sonar and Peter said the images it produces are crystal clear.
‘You can see every stick and stone and can give a guarantee that from the bench to the weir she is not there.’
The side scan sonar being used by SGI creates an image of the river bed and is often used in marine archaelogy, environmental science and by the military.
It works by beaming out high frequency sound pulses in a wide fan shape from an dinghy floating on the surface.
The reflected pulses are recorded and processed to produce an image of the river bed and identify different materials and textures.
A member of his team told Mail Online that unlike in many movies where drowning victims are seen floating on the surface of the water that does not happen in real life.
‘When someone drowns and we find them a couple of days later they are almost always on the bottom of the water. Their arms and legs are dangling down, a big like an Octopus shape.
‘The body will remain on the bottom of the river for four or five days, and then depending on the current might start to drift.
‘Unlike what people see in films the body does not instantly float to the surface.’
It comes after some critics accused Mr Faulding of having an ‘ulterior motive’ since making his feelings known, but the forensic expert rebuked the ‘keyboard warriors’, adding that he has devoted his life to trying to find missing people.
Peter Faulding (pictured) has said if his team cannot locate Nicola in the river then she is not there and he would not rule out ‘third-party involvement’ in her disappearance
In a sign of tensions between police and Mr Faulding, police superintendent Sally Riley last night stressed that he was not party to all the details of their wider investigation.
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.
‘In the light of other inquiries being discounted from the investigation so far… clearly our main belief is that Nicola did fall into the river.
‘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.’
Mr Faulding later demanded that he be granted such access, adding: ‘If there’s any more facts that we don’t know about – normally we work along the side of the police and if you haven’t got the facts then you can’t conduct a proper search, it is very difficult without that information. Normally, I’m privy to that information… it would be useful to know.’
It comes as police have extended the search for Nicola towards the sea after still finding no concrete evidence she fell into the river, while friend of the family Heather Gibbons was among the growing number to question their theory.
She told MailOnline: ‘It’s natural for everyone to have speculation, because the truth is, in this, nothing is making sense.’
Police will be joined by divers from Specialist Group International (SGI) for a third day on Wednesday, following two days of extensive searches.
Abandoned house on the River Wyre, next to the area where Nicola Bulley was last seen on January 27. Vigilantes have been warned to stop breaking into derelict homes in a bid to try and solve the case
Lancashire Police Superintendent Sally Riley pictured speaking to the media at St Michael’s on Wyre Village Hall on Tuesday. She told reporters yesterday that Mr Faulding does not know all the facts of the case
Heather Gibbons (pictured) has joined Nicola’s family and friends in questioning Lancashire Police’s theory
While SGI divers have concentrated on the area where Nicola’s phone was found on a bench, other dive teams started to look further upriver towards Fleetwood and the Irish Sea on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Supt Riley said the police investigation by her officers had been reviewed by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and they had not found any new line of inquiry that should be pursued.
The police chief warned ‘amateur detectives’ they would be arrested if they were found to be breaking the law while carrying out their own searches.
Abandoned and derelict buildings along the river have been broken into by members of the public carrying out their own investigations.
She added: ‘There are some properties along the riverside which are empty or derelict and whilst it may be well-intentioned that people think that that could be a line of inquiry, I would ask them to desist from doing that.
‘In some cases it may be criminal if they are breaking in, causing damage or committing a burglary.
‘We have gone into derelict property – including ones on the riverside, (and) any under renovation that were empty – with the permission of those owners and their knowledge.’
‘Because there is no criminal element yet identified, and we don’t expect there to be in this inquiry, then we’re not starting to go into houses because that’s not where the inquiry is leading us,’ she added.
Seemingly at odds with police, Mr Faulding previously said it was unlikely that Nicola was in the fast flowing River Wyre – adding that it was ‘impossible’ for the 45-year-old to have made it to the sea.
However, The Times reports that he told the newspaper it was in fact possible her body could have reached the sea by now due to the river’s meandering course.
The bay is around 15 kilometres away from where Nicola is believed to have disappeared and where the River Wyre flows into the sea.
Mr Faulding also slammed ‘keyboard warriors’ who have accused him of having an ‘ulterior motive’ for joining the search last night.
He said: ‘This is what you get for trying to help people. I have given my life to helping families looking for missing loved ones.
Nicola Bulley – a 45-year-old mother-of-two – went missing while walking her dog near the River Wyre on January 27
‘Do our job searching in dark murky waters for a drowning victims. My team and I don’t deserve this trash.’
Mr Faulding has also reportedly been ticked off by police over speculating about the disappearance after he said there could be third party involvement.
Meanwhile, Lancashire Police continued to rule out any ‘suspicious or criminal’ element on Tuesday.
Earlier, Mr Faulding said his hopes for further diving expeditions were limited and he told GB News that it was impossible for Nicola to be in the sea.
‘We’ve been using the high frequency side scan sonar in this stretch today and it’s so detailed I can even see every stone of it. She’s not in this stretch,’ the expert explained.
‘We also sonar-ed on the other side down yesterday in the tidal river. Now if you take a football on a tidal river… when the tide goes out the the ball will go down the stream and then as soon as the tide turns it will come back in again. It’ll end up back at the same place.
Nicola went missing 13 days ago and was last seen on the bank of the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre with police still unclear about what has happened to her
‘For Nicola to get out to sea would be impossible, literally, it’s such a long way in the 11 days. It’s an awful long way down,’ Mr Faulding said.
Police revealed a team of 40 detectives are currently working on around 500 different lines of inquiry and more than 700 drivers who travelled through the village around the time of Nicola’s disappearance are being traced.
Speaking at a press conference Tuesday, Supt Sally Riley said police had been supplied with an ‘unprecedented’ amount of information and leads.
She added: ‘At the moment there are around 500 active pieces of information and lines of inquiry that we’re working on to try and find answers for Nicola’s family.
‘This is normal in a missing person inquiry and does not indicate that there is any suspicious element to this story.
‘The inquiry team remains fully open-minded to any information that may indicate where Nicola is or what happened to her.’
But the police chief emphasised that detectives have not yet come across any evidence of foul play.
‘Any criminal or suspicious element has been discarded,’ she said.
‘It is important to stress that any information that comes in that indicates otherwise is being checked out all the time.
‘We are not closed in any way to any particular line of inquiry but all these extensive inquiries, however, have so far found anything of note.’
Detailing the scale of the police inquiry Supt Riley said her team had received thousands of pieces of information ‘from the public, wider community, the Bulley family and friends’.
Officers have conducted house to house inquiries in the village of St Michael’s on the Wyre and hours of CCTV footage has also been analysed.
Police have identified 700 cars that passed through the village around the time Nicola disappeared and each driver is being contacted and asked to check any dash cam footage they might have.
The diving expert said it was ‘impossible’ for Nicola to be in the sea, saying that it was ‘a long way down’ to the estuary from where she went misssing
Police have said they are ‘open minded’ as to how the mother-of-two disappeared, but its working hypothesis remains that the 45-year-old fell into the river
Read more: How dog behaviour can disclose hidden clues to mysteries
Dogs are believed to be able to find the last location of their owners through their sense of smell.
Experts advise those searching should go back to where the dog was last spotted because it will backtrack to its owner and their scent.
A dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 times more powerful than a human and can pick up locational scent.
If its home is far away and the dog can’t find its owner, it will get worried and try to return home to somewhere familiar.
In certain cases, some dogs will return home along or attempt to follow their missing owner, according to Colin Tennant, director of the Cambridge Institute of Dog Behaviour and Training, who wrote in The Sunday Times.
Dogs cannot, however, process what is happening if a human falls into water. In this case, the dog might run along the bank looking for eye-contact or stop on the bank as the last place of detection.
Supt Riley also said police would come down on people making vile comments on social media and speculating about the whereabouts of Nicola.
She added: ‘This is an agonising time for the family, particularly her two little girls.
‘I would ask everyone to remain constructive and cooperative with the inquiry and not do anything that would thwart us and hold us back from trying to find Nicola.’
But Mr Faulding hit back in an interview on GB News last night, saying all information should be made available to his team.
‘If you haven’t got the facts then you can’t conduct a proper search. It’s very difficult without that information.
‘Normally I’m privy to that information on a lot of these searches.
‘If there’s more information I certainly don’t know about it and it would be useful to know.’
It comes as family and friends of Nicola have questioned the police theory that she probably fell into the water.
And Mr Faulding has said if his team cannot locate her in the river then she is not there and he would not rule out ‘third-party involvement’ in her disappearance.
Mr Faulding said his ‘gut instinct’ tells him that Nicola is not in the water.
‘I personally think if I rule this stretch of river out today where we’re working I don’t think she’s here, I think there’s probably a third party involved,’ Mr Faulding told Good Morning Britain on Tuesday.
The forensic expert said he has spoken with Nicola’s ‘distraught’ partner Paul Ansell to keep him updated on the search.
He said: ‘I spoke to Paul last night and asked him if she had any enemies, any stalkers, the normal questions you would ask. And nothing, he said no. And she was totally normal that day when she left, nothing out the ordinary.’
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk