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What happened to Nicola Bulley? Latest theories explained

Investigators are no closer to finding mum-of-two Nicola Bulley, who vanished without a trace on January 27.

The 45-year-old was last seen on a dog walk along a towpath at around 9.15am in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire.

Cops fear the mortgage adviser fell into the river – which flows all the way to Morecambe Bay, Fleetwood – between 9.10am and 9.20am.

Nicola Bulley
Nicola Bulley

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Police initially searched the river but moved to the Morecambe Bay coastline – some 20 miles from where she vanished.

Despite the extensive hunt, there has been no sign of Nicola.

Several new leads have emerged, including a “tatty red van” parked close to where she went missing and two suspicious-looking hooded men in the area.

Here, The Sun Online looks at all the theories about Nicola Bulley’s disappearance.


The River Wyre flows through the southern end of the bay and out into the Irish sea.

With cops operating under the main assumption that Nicola “fell into the river”, divers spent days scouring the water for any sign of the missing mum.

They later moved their search downstream, hunting as far away as Morecambe Bay, Fleetwood.

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Officers confirmed they were focusing on the mouth of the river, with Lancashire Police suggesting finding Nicola in the open sea is becoming “more of a possibility”.

Specialist cops took to dinghies to comb the area off the Lancashire coast.

Dressed in dark waterproofs, they bobbed through the clear blue water looking for any sign of the missing mum.

Sadly, their efforts did not bear any fruit.


Cops hunting for Nicola Bulley are also trying to trace a “tatty-looking” red van parked close to where she vanished.

A worried resident spotted the suspicious-looking vehicle, believed to be a Renault or Transit, outside a barn on January 27.

A man in his 50s, who did not want to be named, twice reported it to cops.

He said: “It was a shabby looking van, an older model, the kind you can live or work in.

“It was on a quiet lane near a barn, with a couple of houses dotted around.

“Obviously, I don’t know whether this van is related to Nicola’s disappearance.

“All I know is that something grabbed my attention. I felt compelled to tell police about it.”

The Sun understands a second witness also contacted police to report seeing the van in the area.

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Lancashire Police confirmed it was making efforts to identify the owner but insisted there was no reason to suspect it is anything other than one of many hundreds of vehicles in the area that morning.


Police are probing reports of two men trying to hide their faces near Nicola Bulley’s dog-walking route the day before she went missing.

A local said the pair were carrying fishing rods and appeared to be wearing hats or hoods at around 7.45am on January 26.

The witness said: “It was very strange. It made me uneasy.”

He spotted one of the men again the following day but didn’t think much of it until he heard the news of Nicola’s disappearance.

On reflection, he says, it was odd that they didn’t appear to be carrying a tackle or bait box and were wrapped up warm when the weather was mild.


A specialist search and rescue team called Specialist Group International (SGI) deployed a £55,000 Sonar to scan the River Wyre.

But they called off their search after declaring she was not in the water.

SGI’s CEO Peter Faulding earlier gave mixed theories about Nicola Bulley – changing his mind throughout the search.

He told BBC Breakfast he thinks Nicola’s phone – found on a bench after she went missing and still connected to a meeting – could be a “decoy” from a “third party”.

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A close pal of Nicola revealed the mum was carrying her car keys when she vanished.

There had been speculation the 45-year-old left them in the ignition of her Mercedes before she disappeared, but her next door neighbour has confirmed she had them on her.

Charlotte Drake told Metro they were most likely in her coat pocket.

Nicola Bulley’s husband Paul Ansell described the keys as having two Mercedes keyrings – one black and one blue.

Also on the bunch is a round wooden key ring with paw prints and a couple of normal keys, he said.


Mr Faulding went on to claim that if could not find the mum-of-two, his “gut” feeling is there there could be a third party involved.

He previously told Sky News that “none of this rings right to me” and that it was “my belief is she’s not in the river at all”.

The expert even claimed Nicola Bulley may “never be found” after his team were forced to withdraw.

Nicola Bulley’s partner Paul and friends are convinced she is not in the river so will likely take him up on the proposal.

Charlotte Drake, who has lived next door to the couple for five years, said: “We’ve all said from 11am on day one when the police showed up… ‘She’s not in that river’.

“My gut feeling remains the same. I honestly believe Nikki is not in the water.”

Paul, who told Channel 5 that his family was going through “unprecedented hell”, added: “Extensive searching, as you’re probably aware, has gone on in that river and the underwater rescue teams have thankfully found absolutely nothing.

“Personally, I am 100 per cent convinced it’s not the river, that’s my opinion.

“You cannot walk your dog down a river and just vanish into thin air.

“Something happened that day, something.”

Other friends have also cast doubt on the assumption.

Heather Gibbons told Times Radio: “Nikki’s a strong swimmer.

“She does that walk frequently. She doesn’t generally go near the river on that walk.”

And Nicola Bulley’s sister Louise Cunningham wrote on Facebook: “There is no evidence whatsoever that she has gone into the river, it’s just a theory.”

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Despite varying theories, police are still working on the hypothesis that Nicola Bulley “sadly” fell into the River Wyre.

Ex-detective Julie Mackay, formerly of Avon and Somerset Police, agrees with the theory for three main reasons.

These include the fact that no new information had given her a reason to think otherwise and that Nicola Bulley’s disappearance was unlikely to be a criminal act due to the time it unfolded.

She also said winter could be playing its part and making it harder to find the mum-of-two.


Cops are confident, after reviewing CCTV, that Nicola did not leave the field near the river via Rowanwater.

And she did not return from the fields along Allotment Lane or via the path at the rear of the Grapes pub onto Garstang Road.

The findings, aided by data from the mum-of-two’s Fitbit fitness watch, have led them to focus on a specific path.

The track from the fields, where she was last seen, to Garstang Road in St Michaels on Wyre, may hold vital clues.

Lancashire Constabulary are appealing to drivers and cyclists to come forward who may have footage from the morning of Nicola vanished.

“Every piece of footage helps us build up a picture of movements on that morning”, the force said.

They said they would also send letters to travellers they think may have been driving down Garstang Road that morning.

Only drivers with dashcam footage are asked to email to let police know.

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Mr Faulding, a rescue expert of 20 years, said signs of drowning, a lack of evidence at the scene and Nicola’s clothing at the time suggest she may not be in the River Wyre at all.

Speaking to MailOnline, he said: “Normally when a person drowns, if they are left a number of days they don’t move very far.

“This is not a fast tidal river. So I would have expected her to be found by the police divers by now.”

He went on to tell reporters that he believes Nicola may not be in the river “at all”.

Analysing her January 27 disappearance further, Mr Faulding said it “feels odd” there were no marks at the scene.

He added how it was also peculiar that not one person heard screams or that she was wearing clothes that would have absorbed water quickly.


On February 6, scores of emergency service vehicles raced to the River Wyre as residents feared a concerning development in the search for Nicola.

A spokesperson for Lancashire Constabulary told The Sun Online: “We were called at 5.51pm today to Shard Road, Hambleton, in relation to the search for Nicola Bulley who is missing from St Michael’s on Wyre.

“The search of the sand and surrounding area near to Shard Bridge by Lancashire Police and the Coastguard proved negative.”

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Nana Akua
Nana Akua
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