Why did Nicola Bulley take her dog’s harness off?
Pictures published today reveal Nicola Bulley usually kept a harness on her dog for walks – prompting questions about why it was found near to where she vanished.
The mother of two was last seen walking her springer spaniel Willow near the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, last Friday morning.
A phone, her dog lead and the pet’s harness were found by a bench where she was last seen.
However, pictures of the pet that Ms Bulley shared on exercise app Strava show it regularly wore a harness when it was outside the house.
It comes as officers taped off Skippool Creek car park by the River Wyre in Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire, with investigators wearing white forensic suits seen carrying away bags of evidence.
The site is nine miles downstream from where Ms Bulley went missing last Friday. However, this afternoon, a Lancashire Police spokesman it was part of an inquiries relating to a suspicious vehicle.
Nicola Bulley kept a harness on her dog for walks – prompting questions about why it was found near to where she vanished
Pictures of the pet that Ms Bulley shared on exercise app Strava show it regularly wore a harness when it was outside the house
Officers taped off Skippool Creek car park by the River Wyre in Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire, with investigators wearing white forensic suits seen carrying away bags of evidence
Ms Bulley’s heartbroken boyfriend spoke for the first time today, saying: ‘It’s like she’s vanished into thin air – it’s insane’.
Paul Ansell, an engineer, said he is focusing on staying strong for their two daughters, who have been asking what has happened to their mother a week on after she disappeared on a dog walk.
Timeline: Mystery of mother who vanished while walking her dog
8.43am – Nicola Bulley walked along the path by the River Wyre, having dropped her two children off at school
8:50am (approximately) – A dog-walker – somebody who knows Nicola – saw her walking around the lower field with her dog. Their two dogs interacted briefly before the witness left the field via the river path
8.53am – She sent an email to her boss
8.57am – She sent a text to a friend to organise a playdate
9.01am – She logged into a Teams call
9.10am (approximately) – A witness – somebody who knows Nicola – saw her on the upper field walking her dog, Willow. Work is ongoing to establish exactly what time this was.
9.30am – The Teams call ended but Nicola stayed logged on
9.35am (approximately) – Nicola’s mobile phone and Willow were found at a bench by the river by another dog-walker.
The dog’s harness was found on a bench along with her phone, which is still connected to a work conference call. The dog’s lead was on the floor.
10.15am – The alarm is raised around an hour later by a walker who finds her springer spaniel Willow running lose.
Jan 28 – Feb 2 – Police hunt for Ms Bulley, including by searching the stretch of river where she was last seen.
Speaking near the scene where Ms Bulley was last seen by the River Wyre in Lancashire, he told broadcasters: ‘My whole focus is my two girls, just staying as strong as I can for them.
‘I’m scared that if I put focus into anything else it’s going to take my focus off that. Just hoping to goodness that anything comes out from the interview yesterday no matter how tiny.’
After thanking the local community for its ‘incredible’ support, he added: ‘I just can’t believe we’re a week on and it seems like we’re no further on. It just seems absolutely impossible. Like a dream. I cannot get my head around it. Right now it’s like she’s vanished into thin air, it’s insane.’
Mr Ansell said he ‘cannot get his head around’ her disappearance. He said: ‘Every single scenario comes to a brick wall. Every single one of them.
‘All we are doing is sitting there going round and round and round through each scenario.’
He added he was focusing on looking after their two daughters and ‘didn’t want to think’ about how he was coping.
On the support from the community, Mr Ansell added: ‘It’s the only thing that we can take [from the situation] is that the level of support is out of this world.
‘It gives us a great amount of comfort knowing that that’s going on, we don’t have anything else.
‘We’re never going to lose hope, but it is as though she has vanished into thin air. It’s just insane.’
Today it emerged that Ms Bulley, a mortgage adviser, sent the text at 8.57am just before logging on to a Teams call while she walked her dog along the River Wyre.
Her final sighting was at 9.10am and 25 minutes later her phone and dog lead were found on a riverside bench.
A resident of St Michael’s on Wyre told the Mirror: ‘She booked a playdate, 8.57, she sent a text message to a friend whose mortgage she had just recently signed off on to arrange for the girls to go for tea this week.’
The local, who did not want to be named, said this was more evidence that she had no intention of voluntarily disappearing, adding: ‘You wouldn’t have done that if you were going to get up and go missing.’
Friends will today gather together to retrace Ms Bulley’s steps in an effort to jog the memories of people in the area.
A phone, her dog lead and the pet’s harness were found by a bench where she was last seen
Another photo of Willow that Ms Bulley shared on her Strava account
Paul Ansell told Sky News: ‘My whole focus is my two girls. Just staying as strong as I can for them. I’m scared that if I put focus into anything else it’s going to take my focus off that’
Mr Ansell tried to gently break the news of her disappearance to their two daughters, who are now confused and continuing to ask their grandparents when she is coming home
It’s been a week now since the mother of two vanished while walking her dog, springer spaniel Willow, on a towpath by the River Wyre
Howard Millington, a former police detective with a 30-year career at Greater Manchester Police, has called her case ‘very unusual’ and ‘very concerning’.
In an interview with Sky News, he said: ‘It will have been quickly escalated, I’ve no doubt. Lancashire Police have spared no expense in resourcing this properly.’
Yesterday, police issued a public appeal for a woman seen in CCTV wearing a red coat on the River Wyre around the time Ms Bulley vanished last Friday morning.
MailOnline can now reveal that the 67-year-old woman, Christine Bowman, told police she did not see Ms Bulley during her walk with her own dog Snowflake.
Ms Bowman said she was baffled by the appeal to track her down because she had already spoken to officers on the day Ms Bulley disappeared – and she ‘doesn’t know anything’.
The local resident – who police hoped could provide key pieces of information in the search for Ms Bulley – does not travel as far as the bench where the missing mother’s phone and dog were found.
‘The security camera footage that she was caught on was taken from the caravan park next to the towpath.
‘That’s as far as she goes, she doesn’t walk her dog further along the footpath than that point.’
The bench where Ms Bulley is thought to have left her mobile phone before she vanished
Members of the public line the road into St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, with missing posters of Ms Bulley
And Ms Bowman told The Mirror she was doubly confused by the public appeal given she’d reportedly already told police she had no information to offer.
The retired teacher said: ‘It has made local women fearful. If they have husbands or partners, they have been taking the dogs out instead.’
It’s a devastating blow for Ms Bulley’s family, who have been waiting with bated breath for updates in the investigation.
In the appeal to track down the woman yesterday, a spokesman for Lancashire Police said: ‘She is described as wearing a red and white coat with a fur hood, light-coloured trousers and a light bobble hat.
‘She was walking a small, white dog. The woman was seen on CCTV at around 8.48am on Allotment Lane, close to where Nicola was last seen and was also seen near to the gate at the end of Allotment Lane.’
However a friend said: ‘Their paths did not cross, she has no information on where Nicola could be sadly.’
As the investigation extends into an eighth day, a source from St Michael’s Angling Association said the stretch of river where Ms Bulley vanished is notorious and ‘very dangerous’, with a depth of about 15ft.
‘The combination of the depth and how cold it is at this time of year makes it very dangerous,’ he told The Times.
‘I certainly would not want to fall in there and I’m a very strong swimmer.’ Specialist police divers have been painstakingly searching the riverbed for clues.
Ms Bulley’s sister Louise Cunningham made a heartfelt plea yesterday, saying she needed to ‘get my sister back’.
Her sister Louise Cunningham, father Ernest, and mother Dot appeal for help finding her
The 67-year-old woman in a red coat who was the subject of a police witness appeal told officers she did not see Ms Bulley during her walk
Joining her family for a round of television interviews, she said: ‘Something has got to have been missed. 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.’
Ms Cunningham said her family felt they were ‘stuck in a nightmare’.
‘We’re going round in circles to piece together what happened. We’ve got to keep an open mind,’ she told ITV News.
‘We have no idea where she is. There’s no evidence to point us in any direction.
‘My hope is that she’s still out there. We just want her home. Her children need her home. It’s heartbreaking. We’re such a close-knit family, we’d do anything for any one of us.
‘Somebody must know something, people don’t just vanish. If there’s anything you might have seen, please get in touch with the police.’
Police released a detailed timeline of the 45 minutes leading up to Ms Bulley’s disappearance on Friday morning.
The mother of two first started walking along the path lining the River Wyre, in Lancashire, at 8.43am, having already dropped her daughters, aged six and nine, off at school.
Her Strava account reveals it’s a route she took often and knew well, sharing pictures of her spaniel Willow frolicking in the field and in the river. On average, it’d take her about 30 minutes to complete the loop and return to her car, which her family say she parked in the same spot about ‘1000 times over’ through the years.
By 8.50am on Friday morning, she’d bumped into another dog walker on the path.
The pair were known to one another and had a brief interaction as their dogs played. The witness left the field a short time later via the river path.
At 8.53am, Ms Bulley emailed her boss and by 9.01am she was logged into her Teams call. Her camera was off and audio muted as she listened in.
Police have issued this handout illustrating the route Ms Bulley took on the day she vanished
As the investigation extends into an eighth day, a source from St Michael’s Angling Association said the stretch of river where Ms Bulley vanished is notorious and ‘very dangerous’
Ms Bulley often shared photos of her runs with Willow on her Strava page, like this picture
By approximately 9.10am, a second witness recognised Ms Bulley in the distance. Police are working to try to narrow down this timeframe.
Then, at 9.30am, the Teams meeting ended. Ms Bulley stayed logged on to the chat room. By 9.35am, her phone and Willow were found deserted on a nearby bench by another dog walker.
Lancashire Constabulary released a CCTV image of a woman in a red coat walking a white dog, who is believed to have been in St Michael’s on Wyre when Ms Bulley disappeared on January 27. In an update, the force said she has been identified.
The dog walker who found the phone earlier said she recognised Willow but couldn’t remember where from, and called her daughter who raised the alarm with Ms Bulley’s long term partner, Paul Ansell.
Ms Bulley would often track her walking route on the Strava app, sharing her times and pictures of the walks with her friends.
She last recorded a 4.1km run along the river, completed over 42 minutes, in November.
A police officer guarding the entrance to the path where Ms Bulley was last seen
‘The combination of the depth and how cold it is at this time of year makes [the river] very dangerous,’ a source told The Times.
The mortgage adviser, 45, sent the text at 8.57am moments before logging onto a Teams call while she walked her dog along the River Wyre in Lancashire
Photos show her dog Willow scampering through the muddy river now at the centre of the police investigation.
Police continued to scour the river bank yesterday, with divers searching the water.
Ms Bulley’s heartbroken family broke down in tears as they pleaded for help to trace her, saying: ‘People don’t just vanish into thin air’.
Ms Bulley’s father, Ernest, 73, said: ‘This has emptied our lives. We appreciate everything everyone is doing to find her. It’s given us hope that someone might find something.
‘There’s two young children that want their mummy back. If Nicola is out there, just come home – contact the police or ourselves.
‘The kids know their mum is coming home, they’re thinking everyone’s looking for her – so it’s only a matter of time.’
Beginning to cry, he continued: ‘Don’t, it’s hard… we’re such a close knit family.
‘We’re a close knit family, we’d do anything for any one of us and the children would do the same for us.
‘We’re getting on in life, and the grandchildren, and our own children, are more and more important to us as we’re getting older. So, yeah, I just hope she comes home.’
Two officers help a police diver up a river bank where searches are continuing for Ms Bulley
A diver has been searching the water while teams on the river bank use a 20-foot-long probe attached to an underwater camera
Police have been on the river for several days amid fears that Ms Bulley could have fallen in
An officer standing guard by a small mud path near to where Nicola Bulley disappeared
He said that his family hoped their interview would ‘spark a light’ that would lead to finding Ms Bulley.
Specialist teams from the police and other emergency services continue to search the area near the River Wyre including divers and underwater drones.
Officers are combing the riverbed near the bench on which Ms Bulley’s mobile phone was found and where her dog was later retrieved by a local resident.
Trees and foliage which hang over the river are also being checked for any items of interest.
A solo police diver spent an hour in the River Wyre this morning, using a head torch to search through the murky water.
She emerged on to the bank just after 12.30pm this afternoon without finding anything of note.
Another police diver was seen getting ready to enter the river and take over the underwater search.
A police source told MailOnline: ‘The underwater teams are performing what’s known as an arc search, whereby they monitor the riverbed by moving in a side-to-side motion from bank to bank.
‘As of yet nothing of significance has been found but it’ll be a long, thorough process.’
The diver gestures to colleagues on the river bank as they prepare to haul her up the slope
A drone photo from February 1, when police searched an ‘abandoned’ old house and the surrounding areas
The stretch of river close to where Ms Bulley was in the village of St Michael’s on Wyre is about nine miles east of the estuary in Fleetwood.
Ms Bulley was last seen walking her spaniel Willow at about 9.15am last Friday along the River Wyre in Lancashire while dialled into a business call.
The night before her disappearance, she had been planning a spa trip with her sister Louise and discussing what treatments they’d get, according to her mother Dot.
At the time, her parents were looking after her daughters while Ms Bulley took a business call. She was ‘upbeat’, having recently secured a new client at work.
Recalling their last conversation, her father Ernest told The Mirror: ‘I said we better go now and Nicola came to the front door, and I gave her a kiss and told her I loved her and that was the last conversation I had with her.’
Both Ernest and Ms Bulley’s mother, Dot, 72, said their daughter’s disappearance was out of character and revealed that they asked police if ‘there is any chance’ she has been abducted.
Asked about their daughter’s state of mind in recent days, the couple said there had been absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.
She had no health problems that they knew of and was enjoying her job.
Ms Bulley, who ‘lived for her children’, had also bought tickets to watch them perform in choir and gymnastics shows in recent weeks, Dot added.
Officers are combing the riverbed near to the bench on which Ms Bulley’s mobile phone was found and where her dog was later retrieved by a local resident
A police source told MailOnline: ‘The underwater teams are performing what’s known as an arc search, whereby they monitor the riverbed by moving in a side-to-side motion from bank to bank’
Ernest broke down as he told how hard it was to be in the same room as his granddaughters, aged six and nine, as they continue to ask questions about their mother’s whereabouts.
‘When I look at the kids, I have to go out of the room because I can’t hold it together,’ he said.
‘They are asking where Mummy is and when is Mummy coming home? It’s so hard.’
The family say the girls were ‘sobbing their hearts out’ when their father Mr Ansell tried to explain to them that ‘Mummy is lost’.
‘We don’t know how long we can keep going before they realise. They think Mummy is coming home soon, but if this keeps going on I don’t know what we’re going to say to them.’
Ernest and Ms Bulley’s extended family have questioned whether she was taken from the river bank, given there were ‘no signs’ that she’d slipped or fallen into the water and zero clues as to where she could be.
The stretch of river close to where Ms Bulley was in the village of St Michael’s on Wyre is about nine miles east of the estuary in Fleetwood
The night before her disappearance, Ms Bulley had been planning a spa trip with her sister, Louise, and discussing what treatments they’d get
A message left for Ms Bulley with a bunch of flowers on the banks of the River Wyre
Police stand on the banks of the River Wyre as the search for mother of two Ms Bulley continues
When Willow was found, she was ‘bone dry’ – meaning she had not entered the water – but appeared to be distressed by something.
Police say they remain ‘open-minded’ as to Ms Bulley’s disappearance but do not believe at present that she was attacked.
Rescuers have so far focused their efforts on a tidal stretch of the river amid fears she may have fallen in and been washed out towards the coast at Fleetwood, some nine miles away.
Friends of Ms Bulley say that the doting mother would have never willingly left her family.
The search continues for Nicola Bulley, who was last seen on Friday morning walking her dog
Rescue teams scoured the area near Garstang Road for clues over the 45-year-old’s mysterious disappearance last week
While the river is just 18 inches deep in some areas, the section where Ms Bulley’s phone was found is near a sign which reads: ‘Danger – deep water.’
Ernest noted there was ‘no sign’ of someone slipping or falling into the river – leading the family to question if someone has taken her.
He added: ‘I asked the sergeant from Fleetwood a few days ago, ”Is there any chance of her being taken?” and she said, ”I don’t think that’s the case”.’
The grandfather was not entirely convinced by the response as the location his daughter went missing in is ‘such an isolated area’.
‘We just dread to think we will never see her again. If the worst came to the worst and she was never found, how will we deal with that for the rest of our lives?’
Ms Bulley’s mother, Dot, said the nights were the hardest.
She told The Mirror: ‘Our worst time is when it gets dark. We find it really hard to think about wondering ‘Is she OK?’ and ‘Where is she?”’
Even though police have assured the family they’re working on it ’24 hours a day’, Dot and Ernest ‘wake in the night and can’t get back off to sleep’ as they’re wracked with fear.
A search dog from Lancashire Police and a crew from Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service search the River Wyre
A poster from Lancashire Police asks for information in the search for Nicola Bulley
Specialist search teams were pictured once again searching the river yesterday, this time helped by a police sniffer dog.
The animals are able to search large areas of water, both lakes and rivers, and are able to perform a search in approximately 10 per cent of the time taken by other search techniques.
Officers combed the area for clues on the river bank either side of the water. On one side of the river is the bench where police found her phone still linked to a work conference call.
The danger sign warning of deep water is nailed to a tree behind the bench – joined now by a missing person poster appealing for information about her disappearance.
Superintendent Sally Riley said: ‘I must stress at this time that this remains a missing person inquiry and at this time there is nothing to suggest any third-party involvement in Nicola’s disappearance.’
Speaking from the family home in Inskip, Mr Ansell said he spent all of Sunday searching for his partner of 12 years.
Ms Bulley’s daughters ‘cried their eyes out’ as their father Paul Ansell tried to console them while stricken with fear and grief himself
A search dog from Lancashire Police and a crew from Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service search the River Wyre
In November Ms Bulley said how visibility on her dog walk had been poor as well as ‘spooky’
Ms Bulley had been out walking her dog Willow when she was reported missing last Friday
The engineer said: ‘It is just perpetual hell. It is just utter disbelief. We are living through this but it doesn’t feel real.
‘All we can say is we need to find her. She’s got two little girls that need their mummy home. We have got to get some good news now.’
Villager Nicola Dewey told the The Times she’d skipped her usual river walk for two days running in the wake of Ms Bulley’s disappearance.
‘It’s really stunned people. It’s silly, but we are now locking our doors,’ she said.
Ms Bulley has lived in Lancashire for 25 years, but is originally from near Chelmsford, Essex, and has a southern accent.
- Anybody with information can call 101, quoting log 473 of January 27, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.