Expert said Nicola was not in river but didn't rule out reeds
Dive expert who said missing Nicola Bulley was not in the river now insists he didn’t rule out the mother-of-two being found in the reeds as police recover a body 23 days after she vanished
- Peter Faulding lead a specialist search for the mother-of-two Nicola Bulley
- Police have recovered a body on Sunday, 23 days after the search began
- Read more: Body is found by police in hunt for missing Nicola Bulley
The diving expert who said that if Nicola Bulley was in the river, he would have found her, has insisted that he didn’t rule out a body being found in the reeds.
Peter Faulding, who describes himself as a ‘world leading confined space rescue and forensic search specialist’, was brought in to help search for the missing mother-of-two in early February.
He had said his high-tech £55,000 sonar would find any bodies in the river and was convinced Ms Bulley was not in the water when, after three days of searching, no body had been recovered.
Police recovered a body from the river on Sunday just a mile from where the 45-year-old went missing in St Micheal’s on Wyre in Lancashire on January 27 while out on a dog walk.
On Sunday, Mr Faulding said he hadn’t ruled out Ms Bulley being found in the reeds as he hadn’t searched there.
Peter Faulding, pictured giving a press conference at the scene of the search for the missing mother-of-two Nicola Bulley, insisted he hadn’t ruled out finding her in the river
Mr Faulding was adamant that he had only cleared the area around the bench, and that the ‘tidal’ section beyond the weir was ‘an open book’.
Mr Faulding also said it would be ‘totally unfair’ to say he gave the family false hope by saying he was sure she wasn’t in the river.
He also doubled down on saying there should have been a land search from day one.
Mr Faulding said: ‘The police search teams walked that river every day. Up and down, up and down.
‘When we searched that part, she was not laying on the bottom of the river, but we were only there for one day.
‘We are going down on with a boat towing the sonar. We’re not searching reeds.
‘As I said, originally, a body could lodge in the reeds under debris, and you wouldn’t see it on any form of sonar, either the police or our sonar.
‘I was convinced she wasn’t in the area from the bench down to the weir. That was where I was 100 per cent in the non-tidal section.
‘That was searched extremely thoroughly – backwards, forwards, backwards, forwards.
‘The tidal bit past the weir I said to everybody, this is an open book. Down to the sea no-one can guarantee that because it’s ebbing and flowing.
‘But when we searched that area [above the weir], she was not laying on the bottom of the river. That’s what I’m saying. We would have seen her absolutely and that needs to be stated.’
A body was found just a mile away from where the 45-year-old disappeared by walkers, who alerted police
Ribbons and flowers are seen on a bench where the phone of missing woman Nicola Bulley was found
Peter Faulding Head of Specialist Group International a private firm, spent three days searching a stretch of the River Wyre where Nicola Bulley went missing
Despite the best efforts of his team, after three days of searches, the specialist concluded that Ms Bulley was not in the river (pictured on February 7)
Asked if he regretted calling for a land search after saying she was not in the river, he said: ‘No. I think from day one, it should have been the land and the river should have been searched one way or another.’
Asked if he gave the family false hope by ruling out the river, he said: ‘If I gave them false hope, then what about the police search teams there every day?
‘I was there for three days as a volunteer. I think that would be totally unfair to be honest with you, and I would sling the hook and give up searching.
‘I’m going to get slated one way or the other. All I can say is when we searched she was not on the bottom of that river.
‘We weren’t searching the reeds, our job was to search the water.’
Asked for his theory, he said: ‘I know absolutely 100 per cent she did not go in at the bench, because her body wouldn’t move that quick around the weir.
‘I think she’s wandered off. I think she’s wandered off further down the river and gone in down there.
‘She could have gone in a lot further down and been washed back in again. No one knows.
‘I think she could have been further down, and then got unlodged and released back up. She may have only just washed up there.
‘If a body gets lodged in the reeds it usually gets found by a dog walker, that is normal.’
Police said they were unable to confirm whether the body recovered on Sunday is that of missing Ms Bulley at this time as they wait for formal identification to be carried out.
Read more: Body is found by police in hunt for missing Nicola Bulley following tip off from walkers
A spokesman said: ‘We were called today at 11.36am to reports of a body in the River Wyre, close to Rawcliffe Road.
‘An underwater search team and specialist officers have subsequently attended the scene, entered the water and have sadly recovered a body.
‘No formal identification has yet been carried out, so we are unable to say whether this is Nicola Bulley at this time.
‘Procedures to identify the body are on-going. We are currently treating the death as unexplained.
‘Nicola’s family have been informed of developments and our thoughts are with them at this most difficult of times. We ask that their privacy is respected.’
A tent has been erected and a wide cordon remains in place.
Police scrambled a huge search after the two walkers spotted the body. Detective superintendent Smith arrived moments before police confirmed the heartbreaking discovery.
The male walker was seen ashen faced as he talked to police and pointed at an outcrop of trees and undergrowth along the bank, saying: ‘There’s definitely a body there’.
Forensic expert Peter Faulding had offered his services in the search for the missing mother-of-two Nicola Bulley before starting on the river on February 6.
He had committed before his team from Specialist Group International began that, ‘if there’s a body in the river, our sonar will detect it’.
‘I can find anything with that and if Nicola is here, I am happy that we will find her if she is in the river,’ he said speaking at the scene during searches on February 6.
The expert – who has worked on high-profile cases before, including the 2011 case of Kate Prout – repeated his convictions in other interviews.
But despite the best efforts of his team, after three days of searches, the specialist concluded that Ms Bulley was not in the river.
On Feburary 10, he shared footage of the motionless river as ‘proof’ that she was not in the water.
Speaking of the video footage, Mr Faulding added: ‘The log stayed at that point for 20 minutes, and it actually spiralled and went up six feet and came back to the same place.
‘The river on the day was slightly higher – it was about a foot higher – but I’d be very surprised in my experience [if she was there] as a body usually goes to the bottom very quickly.
‘If Nicola slipped down the bank, she would have landed in about 2ft of water but onto rocks, and she could have stood up.’
Mr Faulding was critical of police searches stretching to Morecambe Bay, as he believed it was ‘impossible’ for a body to have floated that far.
In an interview with the Daily Mail on February 11, he said: ‘I have this natural ability to find things,’ is how he puts it. ‘And if she was there, I would have found her.’
‘I’ve had some criticism, but I can hold my head high: all the high-profile cases I have worked on have been well documented.
‘I’m not a daydreamer, I speak from experience because I’ve been there, I’ve done it,’ he said.
‘I’ve helped countless families over the years who have lost loved ones in baffling circumstances, and I know that the “not knowing” is the worst thing of all.
‘If I can help with that in any way then I will.’
Mr Faulding described some of the conversations he had with members of Ms Bulley’s family, including her partner Paul Ansell.
‘I told him I had to be completely frank with him, and that he needed to confront all options, hard though it was. Nicola was a pretty lady, she was a creature of habit, and she could have been targeted and taken.’
Although there’s no evidence for this, he later also suggested: ‘She could have run off with a lover, she could have walked from the bench to the main road and into a car. It may seem unlikely — but everything about this case seems unlikely.
‘It’s important to be upfront about these things, upsetting though it is. The cases I have worked on — you can’t rule anything out. That’s why I have been brought in.’
Mr Faulding asserted that Nicola Bulley’s case is one of the most baffling in which he has been involved.
‘In 25 years doing search and recovery, I’ve never had anything quite like it,’ he said.
On February 14, Peter Faulding told MailOnline that Ms Bulley would only have ended up in ‘waist-deep’ water if she had fallen into the River Wyre.
‘If she slipped down the bank she wouldn’t go far. The rocks would hold her in place and she’d only have been waist deep. She could have stood there and asked for help because people do walk by.
‘She’d have needed to be pushed extremely hard from behind to have launched herself into the deep water and experienced police divers have searched that thoroughly.’
And on February 15 he slammed police for not disclosing Ms Bulley’s ‘vulnerabilities’, including her battles with alcohol issues.
The search expert said he had conducted his search on the basis that she had fallen into the river and was frustrated that police had not shared that Ms Bulley may have entered the river in another manner.
Mr Faulding told Jeremy Kyle on TalkTV that: ‘If she had jumped in, intended to take her own life or walk off, that would change my whole plan.
‘She could have ended up in the sea.’
Speaking to The Times, Mr Faulding said: ‘I find it absolutely outrageous this was not shared with me.
‘It’s disgraceful and someone needs to take responsibility for this.’
Timeline: Disappearance of Nicola Bulley
At 8.26am Ms Bulley left her home with her two daughters, aged six and nine, dropping them off at school.
She then took her spaniel, Willow, for a walk along the path by the River Wyre at 8.43am, heading towards a gate and bench in the lower field.
She was seen by a dog walker who knew her at around 8.50am, and their pets interacted briefly before they parted ways, according to the force.
At 8.53am, Ms Bulley sent an email to her boss, followed by a message to her friends six minutes later, before logging on to a Microsoft Teams call at 9.01am.
She was seen by a second witness at 9.10am, the last known sighting.
Her phone was back in the area of the bench at 9.20am before the Teams call ended 10 minutes later, with her mobile remaining logged on after the call.
At 10.50am, Ms Bulley’s family and the school attended by her children were told about her disappearance.
Lancashire Constabulary launched an investigation into Ms Bulley’s whereabouts on the same day and appealed for witnesses to contact them.
Lancashire Constabulary deployed drones, helicopters and police search dogs as part of the major missing person operation.
They were assisted by Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, as well as Bowland Pennine mountain rescue team and the North West underwater search team.
Local residents held a meeting at the village hall to organise a search for Ms Bulley at 10.30am on Sunday, according to reports from The Mirror, and around 100 people joined in.
Police urged volunteers to exercise caution, describing the river and its banks as ‘extremely dangerous’ and saying that activity in these areas presented ‘a genuine risk to the public’
Superintendent Sally Riley from Lancashire Constabulary said police 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 Lancashire Constabulary spoke with a potential witness, a man who had been walking a small white fluffy dog near the River Wyre at the time of Ms Bulley’s disappearance.
Her family released 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’.
Lancashire Constabulary spoke with a second witness who they had identified with the help of the public using CCTV but they told police they did not have any further information to aid their inquiry.
Officers from the North West Police Underwater and Marine support unit searched the area close to where Ms Bulley’s mobile phone was found, while police divers scoured the River Wyre. Meanwhile, Ms Bulley’s family appealed to the public for help tracing her.
Lancashire Police said it was working on the hypothesis that Ms Bulley may have fallen into the River Wyre.
Ms 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.
Lancashire Police announced it wanted to trace a ‘key witness’ who was seen pushing a pram in the area near where Ms Bulley went missing on the morning of her disappearance.
The woman described as a ‘key witness’ by police came forward. The force insisted she was ‘very much being treated as a witness’ as it warned against ‘totally unacceptable’ speculation and abuse on social media.
Peter Faulding, leader of underwater search experts Specialist Group International (SGI), say his team will begin searching the river after being called in by Ms Bulley’s family.
Ms Bulley’s friends said they hoped the help of a specialist underwater rescue team would give the family answers.
Meanwhile, Ms Bulley’s partner Mr Ansell, in a statement released through Lancashire Police, said: ‘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.
‘This has been such a tough time for the girls especially but also for me and all of Nicola’s family and friends, as well as the wider community and I want to thank them for their love and support.’
Police urged people to refrain from indulging in commentary and conspiracy theories about Ms Bulley’s disappearance as speculation increases online.
Police held a press conference over the case and say the mother-of-two was classed as a ‘high-risk’ missing person immediately after she was reported missing due to ‘vulnerabilities.’
They later disclosed Ms Bulley’s struggles with alcohol and perimenopause.
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.
Lancashire Police referred itself to the police watchdog over contact the force had with Ms Bulley prior to her disappearance.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman demanded an ‘explanation’ for the disclosure of Ms Bulley’s private information by the force.
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.
Ms Braverman met with police leaders to discuss the handling of the investigation after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also expressed ‘concerns’ about the revelation.
Appearing on the morning broadcast round, Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt described the police disclosure as ‘shocking’ while shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, who also wrote to the force over its handling of the case, repeated her concerns about the ‘unusual’ level of private information made public about Ms Bulley.
A new search effort was launched less than a mile from where Ms Bulley vanished.
Later on Sunday, Lancashire Police announced they had found a body in the River Wyre.
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