Lancashire Constabulary’s handling of the disappearance of Nicola Bulley is to be scrutinised by three separate inquiries.
Andrew Snowden, Lancashire’s police and crime commissioner, has requested the College of Policing to conduct a “full independent review” into the force’s handling of the case, saying there are lessons to be learned.
The college, which sets national standards for policing, will look at how the force conducted the search for Ms Bulley, how they dealt with the media and why personal information about her was released.
On Wednesday, the Independent Office for Police Conduct announced that it was conducting an investigation into a welfare visit to the family home made by an officer less than two weeks before the 45-year-old disappeared.
A third organisation, the Information Commissioner’s Office, will examine the publication of personal details about the mother of two by the force.
Commissioner Snowden said the unanswered questions surrounding the case, alongside unprecedented media and public interest, warranted a full independent review into Lancashire Constabulary’s conduct.
He said: “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.
“I have therefore taken the decision to commission a full independent review into the handling of this case, with clearly defined terms of reference, to ensure lessons can be learned, not just for Lancashire but for all forces. This includes how such cases can be best investigated and communicated under such spotlight and scrutiny.
“Given the amount of misinformation on social media, poorly-informed opinions given national airtime, the attacks on senior leaders’ personal appearance and family lives, along with the intrusion into the privacy of Nicola’s family, it is important that a professional, thorough, and informed review is undertaken by a national independent body with the right skills and resources, understanding of the current standards and access to the investigation information.”
Detective Chief Constable Bernie O’Reilly, the deputy chief of the College of Policing Deputy, said: “The College of Policing has been asked by the Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner to carry out an independent review into how the force handled the investigation into the disappearance of Nicola Bulley. The work to commence the review will start immediately.”
Lancashire Constabulary has said it “welcomes the independent review that the police and crime commissioner has asked the College of Policing to conduct” into its handling of the Bulley case.
The announcements came as Ms Bulley’s inquest opened at Lancashire Coroner’s Court, with the senior coroner confirming that she had been identified through her dental records.
Opening the inquest on Wednesday, Dr James Adeley, the senior coroner, said he had contacted Ian Edwards, a consultant maxillofacial surgeon, to ask him to compare dental records obtained by police from the Great Eccleston dental surgery.
He said: “He examined the body that was located in the River Wyre near Rawcliffe Road in St Michael’s on Wyre at 2.15pm on Feb 20.”
Dr Adeley said the surgeon found that restorative work carried out was identical, adding: “I’m satisfied on the balance of probabilities and more that positive identification has been made of Nicola Bulley, and I am satisfied that that is who I will be dealing with throughout.
“The family have been informed of the date, time and place of the opening of the inquest and have chosen not to attend, for reasons I can quite understand.”
He said the remaining evidence gathered by the police and the post-mortem examination required “further evaluation”.
A full inquest is likely to be held once the availability of a Home Office pathologist has been checked to “allow time to collate the facts of the case and allow the experts involved to finalise the findings from investigations that still need to be undertaken”.
Ms Bulley had been missing for 23 days when her body was seen by two walkers by the banks of the River Wyre, less than a mile away from where she disappeared, by two walkers on Sunday.