Police have said there is still no evidence of crime in the case of Nicola Bulley, who went missing near her home in Lancashire nearly three weeks ago, but they are being inundated with false information, accusations and rumours.
Bulley was last seen in St Michael’s on Wyre, not far from her home in Inskip, Lancashire, on the morning of 27 January.
In a press conference on Wednesday morning, Lancashire constabulary said an unprecedented amount of work had gone into the case and maintained there was no evidence to indicate a crime had been committed.
It was still the police’s “working hypothesis” that the 45-year-old fell into the river while taking her dog, Willow, for a walk, though they were following a number of lines of inquiry, the force said.
A “vast amount” of evidence had been reviewed and there had been no evidence of third-party involvement, said Det Supt Rebecca Smith, the senior investigating officer on the case.
Smith criticised the social media speculation, saying it had “significantly distracted the police”, adding: “TikTokers have been playing their own private detectives. In 29 years in the service, I have never seen anything like it.”
From the start of the investigation, Bulley was graded as a “high-risk” missing person owing to information provided by her family that police asked the media and the public not to speculate on to protect them.
Peter Lawson, the force’s assistant chief constable, said police were giving more details about the investigation than they usually would because of the “commentary, speculation [and] some criticism” of their handling of the case.
Smith refused to give more details of Bulley’s “individual vulnerabilities”, adding: “. I’ve asked you to respect the family, who are going through unimaginable pain and distress at this moment.
“But those vulnerabilities based our decision-making in terms of grading Nicola as high-risk and have continued to form part of my investigation throughout.”
Paul Ansell, the partner of Bulley, who has two daughters, six and nine, has previously criticised the police’s approach and said he did not believe Bulley had fallen in the river.
In an interview with Channel 5 on Friday, he said: “Extensive searching, as you’re probably aware, has gone on in that river. The fact that the divers and underwater rescue team and all that were in that river on the day, and thankfully found absolutely nothing, in the part where you would have to presume is her last known location. Personally, I am 100% convinced it’s not the river, that’s my opinion.”
He added: “People don’t just vanish into thin air. It’s absolutely impossible. So something has happened. Whatever has happened, in my eyes, has to be somebody who knows the local area. You would only know that area, it’s a local area.”
Police have carried out a search of the land surrounding the place Bulley was last seen, including 300 buildings, using search teams and trained counter-terrorist officers. Fire and rescue dogs were on the ground assisting search efforts, as well as mountain rescue volunteers.
A 49-year-old man from Manchester and a 20-year-old woman from Oldham were arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of sending malicious communications to Wyre councillors over Bulley’s disappearance.