A body has been found in the search for Nicola Bulley, the mother-of-two who has been missing for 23 days.
The body has not yet been formally identified and work to do so is ongoing.
Ms Bulley, 45, vanished while walking her dog Willow on a footpath overlooking the River Wyre in the village of St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, on Jan 27.
The mortgage adviser’s phone was found on a bench by the river, with the family’s pet, Willow, running loose nearby and its harness on the ground.
Her disappearance sparked a major search of the river and surrounding areas and a controversial police investigation.
The discovery of a body came after police hurriedly sealed off a road and launched a diving operation on Sunday afternoon in the River Wyre, following a tip-off from two walkers.
The river had already been searched multiple times previously by police and private divers.
‘Lessons must be learned’ from Nicola probe
Lessons must be learned from Lancashire Constabulary’s investigation into Nicola Bulley’s disappearance, a former Scotland Yard Superintendent has said.
Nusrit Mehtab told Sky News: “It has just been sad all the way through and Lancashire Police have obviously tried their best, but things have gone wrong.”
The former senior Metropolitan Police officer called for a full “independent review” of the probe by another force, rather than Lancashire “marking its own homework”.
Ms Mehtab said “some serious questions have to be asked about whether it was necessary” to release private medical information about Ms Bulley’s struggles with alcohol and the menopause.
She asked: “Did they look at the wider impact, because what was their key messaging and how has this left the public perception, trust and confidence?
“Certainly when you sit back and think how this is going to impact, are women or anybody now liable to come forward or give police the whole story when they feel that such information will be released into the public domain?
“All those questions can be answered with investigation and some real lessons learned because this needs to be stopped and policing needs to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
Lancashire Police probe mired in controversy
It is 23 days since Ms Bulley vanished, which has fuelled one of the most extensive, divisive and controversial investigations in recent times.
Lancashire Constabulary is under fire over its probe to date, which saw it initially focus search efforts on the River Wyre, then the sea, before these were scaled back as Ms Bulley’s family demanded more land searches.
After Ms Bulley’s 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 was launched but a senior investigating officer was not appointed until three days later.
The force sparked a major backlash on Thursday by revealing that Ms Bulley had struggled with alcohol issues brought on by the menopause in the months before she disappeared.
While the force said this would dampen speculation, critics said it only fuelled it further.
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” .
Lancashire Police said on Friday that it will launch an internal review of its search for the mother of two as the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressed “concern” over its decision to release private information about her.
The Home Secretary Suella Braverman also “asked for an explanation” as women’s campaigners and the former victims’ commissioner Dame Vera Baird voiced anger.
Home Secretary reacts to ‘heartbreaking’ find
Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, tweeted on Sunday afternoon: “These are heartbreaking and distressing developments. My thoughts remain with Nicola’s family at this extremely difficult time.”
‘Britain’s FBI’ drafted in to probe Nicola’s disappearance
As part of the investigation to find Nicola Bulley, Lancashire Police drafted in a senior detective from the National Crime Agency (NCA), dubbed Britain’s FBI, who worked on the case of Julia James, the police community support officer murdered while out walking her dog.
The beleaguered force requested that the NCA detective help Det Supt Smith, who is leading the investigation, and is thought to have recommended that external experts help analyse the search, family liaison and digital forensic work on Ms Bulley’s phone and Fitbit.
A forensic clinical psychologist and a behavioural expert have also been asked to assess Ms Bulley’s state of mind and map any potential profile of a potential offender, the Sunday Times reported, before the body was discovered.
A dog behavioural specialist has also been brought in to see if Ms Bulley’s spaniel can assist, despite Det Supt Smith saying in a press conference last week that she “can’t talk to the dog”.
Police later said on Sunday afternoon that the body has not been formally identified and identification work is ongoing.
Map: Where body was found
Here is a map showing where the body was found on Sunday, compared to the original search area around the Lancashire village of St Michael’s on Wyre.
As the map shows, the area where the body was found is remote and walkers tipped off the police after spotting something in the river.
Ashen-faced vaping after discovery was made
The man and woman who found the body in the River Wyre were later seen sat on the wall vaping, looking ashen-faced, as police frantically called for reinforcements.
The man told the first response officer: “It was a body. It is down there. It was a body of a woman. There is definitely a body down there.”
Moment police ‘raced’ to the scene
A witness has described police cars “flying down the road” to the River Wyre after a body was found in the search for Nicola Bulley, the dog walker missing for three weeks, Susie Coen reports.
Amid the flurry of new police search activity on Sunday morning, a witness said: “I drove down Rawcliffe Road for almost a mile. I noticed a man and a woman and two police officers on the embankment.
“I pulled off at about 11.50am and I heard the man talking to police about something in the undergrowth.
“Police cars were flying down the road with the blues and twos going. A police officer pulled up a few minutes later and got his drone out.
“Five minutes later the police helicopter arrived. Officers then asked to me get out so I moved 200 yards down the road.
“I could still clearly see the man pointing at the riverbank. Then more police cars raced down with the blues and twos going. They cleared the entire road.”