Nicola Bulley suffered from ‘significant issues with alcohol’, say police

Asst Chief Constable Peter Lawson and senior investigating officer Det Supt Rebecca Smith – WS_BULLEY_PRESS

Missing dog walker Nicola Bulley had struggled with an alcohol problem brought on by the menopause in the months before she vanished, police revealed on Wednesday.

Lancashire Police is facing a growing backlash over its handling of the case after it revealed that officers had attended a report of concern for welfare at the home of Ms Bulley, 45, and her partner just over two weeks before she disappeared.

Ms Bulley went missing while walking her dog on Jan 27 in St Michael’s on Wyre. Her phone was found on a bench by the river, with the family’s pet, Willow, running loose nearby and its harness on the ground. A search involving specialist officers was launched within an hour of the alarm being raised.

Det Supt Rebecca Smith, the lead investigator, insisted officers had kept an open mind as they revealed Ms Bulley’s long-term partner Paul Ansell, 44, had told them of a “number of specific vulnerabilities” that caused them to treat her disappearance as “high risk” .

She did not initially reveal the vulnerabilities saying she wanted to respect the family who were going through “unimaginable pain and distress at this moment”, but said that they had influenced the decision to class the case as high risk.

Nicola Bulley - Nicholas Razzell

Nicola Bulley – Nicholas Razzell

However, the force later performed a U-turn and revealed that Ms Bulley had turned to alcohol in recent months, and that on Jan 10 a response car from police and health professions attended a report for concern for welfare at Nicola’s home. No one was arrested but officers are investigating.

“We have described how Nicola had some vulnerabilities at the time she went missing and we just wanted to expand on that a little,” the force said.

“Sadly, it is clear from speaking to Paul and the family that Nicola had in the past suffered with some significant issues with alcohol which were brought on by her ongoing struggles with the menopause and that these struggles had resurfaced over recent months. This caused some real challenges for Paul and the family.”

The force admitted it was “unusual” to “go into this level of detail about someone’s private life” but said it wanted to avoid speculation.

“As soon as she was reported missing, following the information that was provided to the police by her partner Paul, and based on a number of specific vulnerabilities that we were made aware of, Nicola was graded as high-risk.

“It’s normal in any missing person investigation that you obviously gather as much information at an early stage about the person in question, which is no different, and we did that with Paul.”

Yellow ribbons placed on the bridge over the river Wyre, in Lancashire - Julian Hamilton

Yellow ribbons placed on the bridge over the river Wyre, in Lancashire – Julian Hamilton

Police had previously said that any health conditions were “not relevant” when asked if Ms Bulley was ill or taking any medication when she vanished.

Officers stressed they did not believe anyone had attacked or abducted Ms Bulley, and that they believed she had gone into the water without anyone else being involved in her disappearance.

Ms Bulley’s disappearance has prompted a wave of armchair detectives to wade in on the case and police hit out false information, accusations and rumours” and several “persistent myths” around the case.

Asked if she hoped to find Ms Bulley alive, Ms Smith added: “I hope with all my heart that we find Nicola Bulley alive more than anything”.

Police said that while they were keeping an “open mind”, their “main working hypothesis” remained that Ms Bulley went into the river during a “10-minute window” between 9.10am and 9.20am.

Nearly 40 detectives have sifted through hundreds of hours of CCTV, dashcam footage and tip-offs from the public and police said out of 1,500 pieces of information none had suggested Ms Bulley had left the field.

Ms Smith said all the evidence suggested that Ms Bulley went down to the river and did not return. Police said they will soon consider the “proportionality” of continuing the huge search in coming days and a search investigator working as part of the team said that officers had used dogs and drones to search land but this had now finished.

On Wednesday Peter Faulding, a forensic expert who carried out a three-day search of the river, said the police’s handling of the case had  been “disgraceful”.

“I am so angry,” he said. “There’s me telling them she couldn’t have slipped in the river, now it’s clearly not someone falling in. I find it absolutely outrageous that this was not shared with me.

“This would have changed the whole direction of the searches. It’s disgraceful and someone needs to take responsibility for this.”

Martyn Underhill, the former police and crime commissioner for Dorset and an ex detective, questioned why the police had taken almost three weeks to release vital information about Ms Bulley.

“We should’ve been told this on day one of Nicola’s disappearance,” he said. “It could’ve changed the whole dynamic of the inquiry. I’m not sure how it furthers things now.

“There are structures and formats and way things are done, and this case is definitely thrown all of that out of the window.

“That level of detail is very usual. To release it this late just confirms my view that an external review from an external force is needed.”

Stella Creasy, the Labour MP, said there were concerns that “such a level of such personal information is relevant” to the investigation.

“It does set a precedent that such information might be released in such circumstances in the future and it is reasonable to ask how disclosing such a level of information helps in finding this woman.

“I respect that there is a police investigation going on but it is quite a thing having that amount of information put into the public domain.”

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