Nicola Bulley: Latest updates on missing dog walker

Everything we know so far

a medium shot showing two police officers walking past a missing poster of Nicola Bulley
(Image credit: Future/Alamy)

Here's the latest news of the Nicola Bulley case.

People up and down the country have shared their heartfelt condolences with the family of Nicola Bulley, following the identification and discovery of her body in the River Wyre on February 19. A large-scale police hunt began in late January after the 45-year-old mother disappeared on January 27, whilst out walking her dog. 

Lancashire Police have provided regular updates on the case as it continued to capture public attention. As the investigation into her death resumes, we've shared the latest details on what has been said via a full timeline of events.

Nicola Bulley: Latest update

February 22 - Inquest and investigations

An inquest into Nicola Bulley's death formally opened at the Lancashire Coroner's Court. During the hearing, senior coroner Dr James Adeley confirmed that a full inquest would be later held on June 26 at County Hall in Preston.

Adeley additionally confirmed that Nicola's body can be released for a "family funeral". 

A Coroner statement also explained what will happen in the upcoming inquest. "The Coroner's Investigation will consider how Ms Bulley came by her death," said Adeley. "The investigation will take time to complete to ensure that as complete a picture as possible of the facts concerning Ms Bulley's death is presented at the inquest. This will assist the family in understanding what occurred."

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Meanwhile, the College of Policing and Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) confirm that they will be launching separate reviews into Lancashire Police's handling of the case.

The IOPC police watchdog are to investigate a welfare check on Nicola Bulley that the Lancashire Police carried out in early January. A spokesperson said: "Following a referral by Lancashire Constabulary on Thursday (16 February) we have started an independent investigation regarding contact the force had with Nicola Bulley on 10 January 2023.

"We were notified by the force that an officer attended the family home on that date as part of a welfare check."

An independent review by the College of Policing has also been commissioned by Lancashire Police Commissioner Andrew Snowdon.

"The public understandably feel that there remain questions about the handling of elements of the police investigation, how it was communicated and the decision to release personal information, which need to be answered and explained," he said.

"Now that the investigation and search is concluded it is right we ask those questions around why that information was released and make sure that it is properly reviewed."

Lancashire Police said it welcomed the review and was "keen to take the opportunity to learn".

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In wake of the family statement, Broadcasting regulator Ofcom shared that they are "extremely concerned" to hear complaints made about  ITV and Sky News.

Nicola's family singled out the two media outlets for continuing to contact them when they had explicitly asked for privacy following confirmation that Nicola's body had been found.

Ofcom said it had written to ITV and Sky "to ask them to explain their actions". Both have since confirmed they will work with the regulator to answer any questions.

February 21 - Family statement

Detective Chief Superintendent Pauline Stables of the Lancashire Constabulary, reads a statement on behalf of the family, following yesterday's sad news.

The full family statement reads:

"Our family liaison officers have had to confirm our worst fears today. We will never be able to comprehend what Nikki had gone through in her last moments and that will never leave us.

We will never forget Nikki, how could we, she was the centre of our world, she was the one who made our lives so special and nothing will cast a shadow over that.

Our girls will get the support they need from the people who love them the most. And it saddens us to think that one day we will have to explain to them that the press and members of the public accused their dad of wrongdoing, misquoted and vilified friends and family.

This is absolutely appalling - they have to be held accountable. This cannot happen to another family. We tried last night to take in what we had been told in the day, only to have Sky News and ITV making contact with us directly when we expressly asked for privacy.

They again, have taken it upon themselves to run stories about us to sell papers and increase their own profiles. It is shameful they have acted in this way. Leave us alone now. Do the press and other media channels and so called professionals not know when to stop? These are our lives and our children's lives.

To those who genuinely helped and supported us, privately, we thank you. The community support in St Michael's, friends, neighbours and strangers has been nothing short of comforting and heart-warming. Friends you know who you are. Thank you.

Our hearts truly break for others who have missing loved ones. Keep that hope alive.

Finally, Nikki, you are no longer a missing person, you have been found, we can let you rest now. We love you, always have and always will, we'll take it from here xx."

February 20 - Body confirmed as Nicola Bulley

Lancashire Police confirm that the body recovered on February 19 has been identified as Nicola Bulley.

"Sadly we are now able to confirm that yesterday we recovered Nicola Bulley from the Wyre," said Lancashire Police's Assistant Chief Constable Peter Lawson in a press conference. "Nicola's family have been informed and are of course devastated. Our thoughts are with them at this time, as well as all her loved ones and the wider community.

February 19 - A body found in River Wyre

Lancashire Police confirm that a body has been found in the search for missing dogwalker Nicola Bulley, following a tipoff by members of the public.

The force clarified that no formal identification has yet taken place, but that Nicola's family had been informed. The call was received at 11.36 am on Sunday morning, with the body found in the River Wyre - within a mile of where Nicola was last seen.

“An underwater search team and specialist officers have subsequently attended the scene, entered the water, and have sadly recovered a body," the police statement read. "No formal identification has yet been carried out, so we are unable to say whether this is Nicola Bulley at this time."

In a statement shared with Sky News, Nicola's partner Paul Ansell shared the family's reaction to the news. "No words right now, just agony," said the message sent to Sky News correspondent Inzamam Rashid. "We're all together, we have to be strong."

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February 17 - Police face further questions

The UK's Information Commissioner has confirmed that it will be asking Lancashire Police about the decision to disclose Nicola Bulley’s struggles with alcohol and HRT.

John Edwards, current Information Commissioner, shared in a statement: "Data protection law exists to ensure people’s personal information is used properly and fairly. This includes ensuring personal details are not disclosed inappropriately.

"Police can disclose information to protect the public and investigate crime, but they would need to be able to demonstrate such disclosure was necessary.

"We recognise that at this stage of an intensive, live investigation, the force must focus all their energies on the inquiry. But given the high-profile nature of this case, we will be asking Lancashire Police to set out how they reached the decision to disclose this information in due course."

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February 16 - Family statement amidst police backlash

The family of Nicola Bulley ask the public to end "appalling" specualtion about her personal life. Lancashire Police release a statement on behalf of the family who have condemned comments being made about Nicola online after the force revealed she has issues with alcohol.

"As a family, we were aware beforehand that Lancashire Police, last night, released a statement with some personal details about our Nikki," the statement begins. "Although we know that Nikki would not have wanted this, there are people out there speculating and threatening to sell stories about her. This is appalling and needs to stop.

"The police know the truth about Nikki and now the public need to focus on finding her. Due to the peri menopause, Nikki suffered with significant side effects such as brain fog, restless sleep and was taking HRT to help but this was giving her intense headaches which caused Nikki to stop taking the HRT thinking that may have helped her but only ended up causing this crisis.

"The public focus has to be on finding her and not making up wild theories about her personal life."

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The family also set the record straight on misleading media reports, confirming they were being updated daily on Nicola's case and are receiving support from family liaison officers.

The statement ended with a personal plea to their "wonderful daughter, sister, partner and mother". 

"Nikki, we hope you are reading this and know that we love you so much and your girls want a cuddle. We all need you home. You can reach out to us, or you can contact Don’t be scared, we all love you so very much."

Meanwhile the Lancashire Constabulary have continued to receive criticism from people after releasing such private details about Nicola. 

Dame Vera Baird KC, former Victims' Commissioner for England and Wales, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m afraid this is the biggest error that I have seen for quite a long time. It’s going to just, you know, very sadly, to undermine trust in the police yet further.

"It is a dreadful error to put this in the public domain for absolutely nothing and I’m afraid I think it’s as sexist as it comes," she added. 

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Suella Braverman also expressed concerns to the force about releasing such personal information. The 42-year-old demanded an explanation from senior officers over the incident and is said to have been wholly satisfied with their justification given on February 16.

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February 15 - 'High risk' missing person

Lancashire Police hold a press conference on the morning of February 15, providing updates on the case three weeks on. During the conference, the constabulary shared that Bulley had “individual vulnerabilities” which meant the case was deemed high category, with risk of her coming to serious harm.

In a statement following the conference, Lancashire Police clarified what they meant by these vulnerabilities. They stated that Bulley's partner, Paul Ansell, had disclosed to them that Nicola has suffered from issues with alcohol previously.

“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," read the statement. "This caused some real challenges for Paul and the family.

"It is an unusual step for us to take to go into this level of detail about someone’s private life, but we felt it was important to clarify what we meant when we talked about ‘vulnerabilities’ to avoid any further speculation or misinterpretation.”

Police have faced some criticism for sharing such personal information - with many concerned it's an example of 'victim blaming' by the force.

Tory MP Alicia Kearns was one who denounced the police statement, suggesting it wasn't clear how this information would help with the ongoing search. 

"I am deeply uncomfortable with the police releasing Nicola Bulley’s so-called ‘vulnerabilities’ on menopause & alcohol," she wrote on Twitter. "I struggle to ascertain how this will assist police in their search & investigations. I do see how it would assist those wishing to victim-blame or diminish.”

Stella Creasey, Labour MP for Walthamstow agreed: "The decision to disclose this level of detail on a missing person’s private life, with no evidence that this is assisting in finding her, is deeply troubling. The police need to be much clearer as to why any of this helps find Nicola Bulley or support this investigation."

Others have weighed in on the situation online. Barrister Dr Charlotte Proudman called the move "shameful".

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February 14 - 'Malicious' messages

Lancashire Police confirmed that 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.

The force acted after receiving reports over the weekend of such messages.

February 12 - Yellow ribbons

Family, friends and members of the public attached yellow ribbons and handwritten messages to a bridge close to where Ms Bulley was last seen.

"We need you home" read one message. Others said "praying for your safe return” and “I love you”.

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February 10 - Partner speaks out

Speaking to 5 News, Nicola Bulley's partner Paul Ansell shared the "unprecedented hell" the family have been experiencing since her disappearance. He added that he's been telling Nicola's children - two daughters, aged six and nine - that "everybody is looking for mummy".

"Hope and that positivity in me is stronger than ever, and I'm never, ever going to let go. Nikki would never give up on us ever. She wouldn't give up on anybody.

"We're not gonna ever give up on her... we're going to find her."

"She is fun. She is loving," he added of her character. "If you’re friends with her, she’s the most loyal friend that you could ever have. With Nikki, what you see is what you get. There’s no hidden, nothing’s hidden.

"You know, it’s all. That’s, that’s her. And she is an exceptional mum and she absolutely adores our girls. And goes above and beyond. She’s just a pillar of strength to our family and without her, the hole is bigger than you can possibly imagine."

Mr Ansell also shared that he disagrees with the police's theory that she fell into the river, insisting that "something happened" on the day of his partner's disappearance.

"There has to be a way to find out what happened, there has to be," he added. "You cannot... you cannot walk your dog down a river and just vanish into thin air."

a close up of Nicola Bulley's partner Paul Ansell

(Image credit: Alamy/PA)

February 8 - Police search teams

Police search teams shift from the area where Nicola was last seen to further down the river and towards the sea. Officers were spotted where the River Wyre empties into the Irish Sea at Morecambe Bay near Knott End.

The day before, Lancashire Police dismissed any suggestions of a criminal aspect in Ms Bulley’s disappearance.

February 6 - Underwater search starts

Underwater search experts arrived at the crime scene to assist police in the search for Nicola Bulley. The Specialist Group International (SGI) began searching the River Wyre near where Nicola was last seen. However, forensic search expert and SGI's founder Peter Faulding cast doubt over the theory that the missing dog walker was in the water. 

Speaking with TalkTV, Mr Faulding said: "I personally don’t think she’s in the river, that’s just my gut instinct at this point."

The diving team conducted a second search of the scene where Bulley’s mobile phone was found on a bench. After searching "three or four miles" of the river, Faulding told the PA news agency: “It’s a negative search, no signs of Nicola”.

The Surrey-based SGI group have been volunteering its services for free to help with Nicola's disappearance. The team used specialist sonar equipment to look in and along the River Wyre.

On the same day Paul Ansell led a fresh appeal for the missing mother-of-two. "It’s been 10 days now since Nicola went missing and I have two little girls who miss their mummy desperately and who need her back," he shared in a statement.

February 4 - Key witness comes forward

A "key witness" police previously appealed to come forward has been in touch with the force. CCTV footage of a woman in a yellow coat, walking a pram from January 27 (the day Nicola disappeared) was released earlier in the day. They asked the woman to make themselves known to Lancashire Police.

Late on February 4, a spokesperson for Lancashire Police confirmed: "Earlier this evening as part of our search for Nicola Bulley, we put out an appeal to find a witness in St Michael’s on Wyre. We are pleased to say that the woman came forward very quickly and we must stress that she was very much being treated as a witness and was one of many people in St Michael’s on Friday, January 27."

The statement was shared to warn against any speculation and abuse on social media.

February 3 - 'Fell into river' theory

Lancashire Police shared its "main working hypothesis" to date. They believe that Nicola Bulley fell into the River Wyre, and as such, it was "not suspicious but a tragic case of a missing person".

Superintendent Sally Riley, from the force investigating, said that police had analysed dashcam, CCTV and doorbell footage to "eliminate any trace so far of Nicola having left the riverside."

"We believe that Nicola was in the riverside area and remained at the riverside area," Riley says. "We remain open to any inquiries that might lead us to question that, but at this time we understand that she was by the river."

a long shot showing the River Wyre where Nicola Bulley was last seen

(Image credit: Alamy)

February 2 - Search and second witness

North West Police Underwater and Marine support unit launch their search near the area where Ms Bulley’s mobile phone was recovered. The specialised police divers began scouring the River Wyre for any evidence linked to the dog walker's disappearance. 

Meanwhile, the Lancashire Constabulary confirmed that they had spoken with a second witness from the day Nicola went missing. However, the witness told police they did not have any additional information which could aid the search.

February 1 - Nicola's parents speak out

Nicola Bulley’s parents - dad Ernest and mum Dot - give an interview to Sky News in the wake of their daughter's disappearance. In a teary TV address the two share the "horror" they feel of potentially never seeing their daughter again. They insist her disappearance is "out of character".

“This has just emptied our lives at the minute, we just feel so empty,” Mr Bulley said. "We appreciate everything everyone is doing to find her. The police have been brilliant, the local community has been outstanding. But at the end of the day we just want her back."

"We need the public to search their minds for anything they might have seen," he added. "The main thing is we want to find Nicola and get her back home.

"There are two young children there waiting for their mummy to come back. And if Nicola is out there and she's watching this - come home, contact the police. We just want you back."

Nicola's sister Louise Cunningham also spoke to the broadcsaster. "I just can't...if I'm being honest, it feels like I'm just stuck in a nightmare," she said.

"We're going round and round in circles trying to piece together what could have possibly happened and we've just got to keep such an open mind with everything because we just have no idea where she is.

"It's like she's just vanished into thin air. There's no evidence to point us in any direction."

January 31 - Key witness on 'hooded men'

Lancashire Constabulary confirm that they spoke with a potential witness - a man who was walking his small white fluffy dog near the River Wyre at the time of Nicola Bulley's disappearance. 

The local man, who remains anonymous, later gave an interview to The Sun. He recalls seeing a suspicious pair carrying fishing rods the day before Nicola disappeared. 

He told the paper that the two individuals "were trying to hide their faces". "It was very strange. It made me uneasy," he said.

Meanwhile, Nicola's family released a statement saying they had been "overwhelmed by the support" in their community. They added that her daughters were "desperate to have their mummy back home safe".

January 30 - Disappearance 'not suspicious'

Superintendent Sally Riley from Lancashire Police claims that they are “keeping a really open mind about what could have happened." She adds that, at present, Police were not treating Ms Bulley’s disappearance as suspicious.

January 29 - Locals begin search

Two days after Nicola's disappearance, local residents come together in the village hall and devise their own search.

"We have also become aware that a large number of people from the local community have organised a search of the area and we would urge them to stay safe," a police spokesperson says. "The river and its banks are extremely dangerous and searching these areas presents a genuine risk to the public."

January 28 - Missing person operation

Local emergency services come together to launch a "significant, resource-intensive search in the area". Police deploy fleets of drones, helicopters, and search dogs as part of the major missing persons operation.

Lancashire Fire and Rescue, Bowland Pennine mountain rescue team and the North West underwater search team have all joined the search operation.

"This search will continue today and in to next week," says a police spokesperson.

"We are also supporting Nicola’s family and remain in close contact with them," they add. "We are keeping an open mind about where Nicola may be and a team of detectives are also investigating the circumstances around her disappearance and are following a number of lines of enquiry. We continue to ask for information about Nicola’s disappearance."

January 27 - Day of disappearance

At 11am on January 27, Lancashire Constabulary receive a call reporting Nicola Bulley missing. The mum-of-two set out on a dog walk after dropping her daughters off at school. 

45 minutes later, Lancashire Police release a public appeal for information about Nicola online.

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When did Nicola Bulley go missing?

According to the police timeline, Nicola Bulley went missing between 9.10am and 9:33am on the morning of January 27, 2023. Nicola's dog Willow and her phone were found near the bench where she was last believed to have been.

Timeline of day Nicola went missing

  • 8.43am: After dropping her two daughters off at school, Nicola sets out on a dog walk along the path by the River Wyre. 
  • 8:50am (approximately): A fellow dog-walker - who knows Nicola - sees her walking her springer spaniel Willow around the lower field. Both dogs interact briefly before the witness leaves the field via the river path.
  • 8.53am: Nicola sends an email to her boss.
  • 9.01am: Nicola logs onto a Microsoft Teams call for work.
  • 9.10am (approximately): A witness – who also knows Nicola – sees her walking Willow on the upper field walking Willow.
  • 9.20am (approximately): Mobile phone signal places her at the area of a bench by the river.
  • 9.30am: Nicola's work call ends but she remains logged on.
  • 9.33am: A local dog walker stumbles across Willow running around off her lead.
  • 9.35am (approximately): Nicola’s mobile phone, facing upwards, and dog Willow are found at the bench by another dog-walker. Willow’s harness and lead were halfway between the bench and the river.
  • 10.50am: Nicola’s family and her children's schools are notified of her disappearance
  • 11am: Nicola is reported missing to police.

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Emily Stedman
Features Editor

Emily Stedman is the former Features Editor for GoodTo covering all things TV, entertainment, royal, lifestyle, health and wellbeing. Boasting an encyclopaedic knowledge on all things TV, celebrity and royals, career highlights include working at HELLO! Magazine and as a royal researcher to Diana biographer Andrew Morton on his book Meghan: A Hollywood Princess. In her spare time, Emily can be found eating her way around London, swimming at her local Lido or curled up on the sofa binging the next best Netflix show.