Fifteen vital questions about the mother-of-two’s disappearance that are leaving the family baffled
The riddle of mother-of-two Nicola Bulley – who ‘vanished into thin air’ while walking her dog Willow – has spawned 15 questions:
1. Why hasn’t Ms Bulley been found in the river?
The River Wyre empties into the Irish Sea at Fleetwood, 13 miles downstream. It is tidal for several miles, until the point where a weir is situated, close to where Ms Bulley disappeared. The water is slow-flowing, so if Ms Bulley fell into the river, it is difficult to understand why she has not been found – or how she could have got into trouble in the first place.
2. Could she swim?
Ms Bulley is described as a capable swimmer. She is familiar with the route she walks most mornings, and was dressed appropriately for the cold.
Nicola Bulley ‘vanished into thin air’ while walking her dog Willow on Friday morning
3. Why was the dog’s harness removed?
A disturbing puzzle is why Willow’s harness was found on the ground. If Ms Bulley had wanted to let the dog run free, she could have simply unclipped the lead. But for some reason, Willow’s harness had been removed.
4. Had the dog been in the water, and maybe Ms Bulley went in after her?
Willow appeared distressed but ‘bone dry’, according to the woman who found her. There was no sign of her having gone into the river.
5. Why would she leave her phone on the bench?
Ms Bulley’s phone was found on the bench, still connected to a conference call. So whatever happened, there was no time to end the call or to alert others on the call. But it is possible Ms Bulley deliberately chose not to terminate the call because she believed she would be returning to it once she had dealt with whatever needed her immediate attention. Detectives have examined the phone, but so far there is nothing to indicate anyone but Ms Bulley placed it on the bench.
6. Why was she on mute with no video for her business meeting?
The conference call was a team meeting with colleagues from her firm Exclusively Mortgages. It started at 9.01am and Ms Bulley dialed in from her phone. Ben Pociecha, the firm’s director, said: ‘It seems as if she was muted and didn’t have her camera on. She was listening while walking her dog. The police are probing the call. It was not unusual for Ms. Bulley to attend meetings in this manner. The company is based in Keighley, West Yorkshire, a 90-minute drive, and there was no need for Ms Bulley to attend in person or even take part beyond listening.
7. Where was her partner while she was out walking their dog?
Paul Ansell, her partner of 12 years, works as an engineer and the couple often took it in turns to perform the school run and dog-walking duties. The 44-year-old is believed to have been at the family home when the call came through telling him Ms Bulley’s phone and dog had been found near the river.
Specialist search teams from Lancashire Police, beside the bench where Nicola Bulley’s phone was found, on the banks of the River Wyre, in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, February 2, 2023
8. Did anyone see her dropping off the children?
The car park next to the school is well used, although there are apparently no CCTV cameras. It was Ms Bulley’s usual practice to drop off her daughters at 8.30am and then walk Willow to the river, leaving the car near the school. They would have been visible to motorists as they walked along the pavement of the busy A-road, Blackpool Lane, for about 200 yards, past the village church, before crossing the bridge over the river and turning on to the towpath.
9. Is the towpath isolated?
The towpath starts in the open before entering a copse at a bend in the river. At least four people appear to have seen Ms Bulley along the path between 8.43am and 9.10am.
10. Why are there no physical signs along the riverbank?
Although locals have warned about the ‘slippery riverbank’, which is muddy and steep in places, Ms Bulley’s family have questioned why there are no signs of anyone sliding into the river or desperately scrabbling to get out. But Superintendent Sally Riley, from Lancashire Police, said ‘parts of the riverbank are treacherous’.
11. Could she have been kidnapped?
Ms Bulley’s father Ernest, 73, has wondered if she was snatched. He said: ‘There was no sign of a slip or falling in, so our thought was, “Has somebody got her?”. He said he had asked a police sergeant, who had all but dismissed the theory. But he said: ‘How can you know that? It’s such an isolated area, the only way that would have happened is if it was someone who knew her.’ Lancashire Constabulary have said they do not believe there was any third-party involvement in her disappearance but are keeping an ‘open mind’.
A PSCO guards the entrance to the path where Nicola Bulley, 45, was last seen on a towpath by the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, February 2, 2023
12. Could she have staged a disappearance?
On the contrary, Ms Bulley was said to have been ‘very upbeat’ and loving her life and her job as a mortgage broker, through which she had just won a new client. Only the night before, when she saw her parents, ‘her mind was great’, her father said. Her mother, Dot, 72, said Ms Bulley had recently bought tickets to watch her children in choir and gymnastics shows, and had been excitedly planning a spa day treat with her younger sister Louise.
13. What about the ‘abandoned’ house?
An ‘abandoned house’ opposite the river bank where she disappeared was an intriguing early line of enquiry. But the manor house turned out not to be abandoned, and the owner “had a quick look around and she wasn’t there,” searcher Kev Camplin said.
14. Why is the search taking so long?
Police divers are performing an ‘arc search’, combing the riverbed by moving in a side-to-side motion from bank to bank – described as a ‘thorough but long’ process. They have also deployed underwater drones, but visibility in the muddy waters is poor.
15. What do the family think happened?
Ms Bulley’s sister, Louise Cunningham, said yesterday: ‘Somebody must know something. People don’t just vanish into thin air. There has got to be somebody who knows something and all we are asking is, no matter how small or big, if there is anything you remember that doesn’t seem right, then please reach out to the police. Get in touch and get my sister back.