Police have extended the search for Nicola Bulley towards the sea after finding no evidence she fell into the river – as a family friend has admitted doubts over the working hypothesis on how she disappeared.
Heather Gibbons has joined Ms Bulley’s family and friends in questioning Lancashire Police’s theory that she may have fallen into the River Wyre while walking her dog on January 27.
She told The Sun: ‘It’s natural for everyone to have speculation, because the truth is, in this, nothing is making sense.’
It comes as police, who will be joined by divers from Specialist Group International (SGI) for a third day on Wednesday, are yet to find any evidence she is in the water despite two days of extensive searches.
While SGI divers have concentrated on the area where Ms Bulley’s phone was found on a bench, other dive teams started to look further upriver towards Morecambe Bay on Tuesday.
Heather Gibbons (pictured) has joined Ms Bulley’s family and friends in questioning Lancashire Police’s theory
Ms Bulley – a 45-year-old mother-of-two – went missing while walking her dog near the River Wyre on January 27
But Peter Faulding, a forensic expert and founder of SGI, has previously said it is unlikely that Ms Bulley is in the fast flowing river – adding that it was ‘impossible’ for the 45-year-old to have made it to the sea.
However, The Times reports that he told the newspaper that it was possible her body could have reached the sea by now if she had fallen into the water because of the river’s meandering course.
The bay is around 15 kilometres away from where Ms Bulley is believed to have disappeared and where the River Wyre flows into the sea
Mr Faulding also slammed ‘keyboard warriors’ who have accused him of having an ‘ulterior motive’ for joining the search last night.
He said: ‘This is what you get for trying to help people. I have given my life to helping families looking for missing loved ones.
‘Do our job searching in dark murky waters for a drowning victims. My team and I don’t deserve this trash.’
Mr Faulding has also reportedly been ticked off by police over speculating about Ms Bulley’s disappearance after he said there could be third party involvement.
Meanwhile, Lancashire Police continued to rule out any ‘suspicious or criminal’ element on Tuesday.
Earlier, Mr Faulding’s said his hopes for further diving expeditions were limited and he told GB News that it was impossible for Ms Bulley to be in the sea.
‘We’ve been using the high frequency side scan sonar in this stretch today and it’s so detailed I can even see every stone of it. She’s not in this stretch,’ the expert explained.
‘We also sonar-ed on the other side down yesterday in the tidal river. Now if you take a football on a tidal river… when the tide goes out the the ball will go down the stream and then as soon as the tide turns it will come back in again. It’ll end up back at the same place.
Peter Faulding (pictured) has said if his team cannot locate Ms Bulley in the river then she is not there and he would not rule out ‘third-party involvement’ in her disappearance
Divers have begun to search close to the estuary as the search for Nicola Bulley expands due to fears she may have floated downstream
Lancashire Police Superintendent Sally Riley pictured speaking to the media at St Michael’s on Wyre Village Hall today
‘For Nicola to get out to sea would be impossible, literally, it’s such a long way in the 11 days. It’s an awful long way down,’ Mr Faulding said.
Morecambe Bay was the scene of a 2004 disaster which saw 23 Chinese illegal immigrants working as cockle pickers drowned by the incoming tide.
A team of 40 detectives are currently working on around 500 different lines of inquiry and more than 700 drivers who travelled through the village around the time of Ms Bulley’s disappearance are being traced.
Speaking at a press conference today, Superintendent Sally Riley said police had been supplied with an ‘unprecedented’ amount of information and leads.
She added: ‘At the moment there are around 500 active pieces of information and lines of inquiry that we’re working on to try and find answers for Nicola’s family.
‘This is normal in a missing person inquiry and does not indicate that there is any suspicious element to this story.
‘The inquiry team remains fully open-minded to any information that may indicate where Nicola is or what happened to her.’
But the police chief emphasised that detectives have not yet come across any evidence of foul play.
‘Any criminal or suspicious element has been discarded,’ she said.
‘It is important to stress that any information that comes in that indicates otherwise is being checked out all the time.
‘We are not closed in any way to any particular line of inquiry but all these extensive inquiries, however, have so far found anything of note.’
Detailing the scale of the police inquiry Supt Riley said her team had received thousands of pieces of information ‘from the public, wider community, the Bulley family and friends’.
Officers have conducted house to house inquiries in the village of St Michael’s on the Wyre and hours CCTV footage has also been analysed.
Police have identified 700 cars that passed through the village around the time Ms Bulley disappeared and each driver is being contacted and asked to check any dash cam footage they might have.
The diving expert said it was ‘impossible’ for Ms Bulley to be in the sea, saying that it was ‘a long way down’ to the estuary from where she went misssing
Police have said they are ‘open minded’ as to how the mother-of-two disappeared, but its working hypothesis remains that the 45-year-old fell into the river
Read more: How dog behaviour can disclose hidden clues to mysteries
Dogs are believed to be able to find the last location of their owners through their sense of smell.
Experts advise those searching should go back to where the dog was last spotted because it will backtrack to its owner and their scent.
A dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 times more powerful than a human and can pick up locational scent.
If its home is far away and the dog can’t find its owner, it will get worried and try to return home to somewhere familiar.
In certain cases, some dogs will return home along or attempt to follow their missing owner, according to Colin Tennant, director of the Cambridge Institute of Dog Behaviour and Training, who wrote in The Sunday Times.
Dogs cannot, however, process what is happening if a human falls into water. In this case, the dog might run along the bank looking for eye-contact or stop on the bank as the last place of detection.
Supt Riley said the police investigation by her officers had been reviewed by the National Crime Agency and they had not found any new line of inquiry that should be pursued.
The police chief warned ‘amateur detectives’ they would be arrested if they were found to be breaking the law while carrying out their own search.
Abandoned and derelict buildings along the river have been broken into by members of the public carrying out their own investigation.
She added: ‘There are some properties along the riverside which are empty or derelict and whilst it may be well-intentioned that people think that that could be a line of inquiry, I would ask them to desist from doing that.
‘In some cases it may be criminal if they are breaking in, causing damage or committing a burglary.
‘We have gone into derelict property – including ones on the riverside, (and) any under renovation that were empty – with the permission of those owners and their knowledge.’
Supt Riley also said police would come down on people making vile comments on social media and speculating about the whereabouts of Ms Bulley.
She added: ‘This is an agonising time for the family, particularly her two little girls.
‘I would ask everyone to remain constructive and cooperative with the inquiry and not do anything that would thwart us and hold us back from trying to find Nicola.’
In a sign of tensions between police and Mr Faulding after he made a string of television appearances offering his own theories, she stressed that he was not party to all the details of their wider investigation.
The ‘baffled’ diving expert leading the search for missing Nicola Bulley fears her mobile phone discovered on the bend next to the river was left as a ‘decoy.’ Ms Bulley is pictured here with her partner Paul Ansell
But Mr Faulding hit back in an interview on GB News last night, saying all information should be made available to his team.
‘If you haven’t got the facts then you can’t conduct a proper search. It’s very difficult without that information.
‘Normally I’m privy to that information on a lot of these searches.
‘If there’s more information I certainly don’t know about it and it would be useful to know.’
It comes as family and friends of Ms Bulley have questioned the police theory that she probably fell into the water.
And Mr Faulding has said if his team cannot locate Ms Bulley in the river then she is not there and he would not rule out ‘third-party involvement’ in her disappearance.
Mr Faulding said his ‘gut instinct’ tells him that Ms Bulley is not in the water.
‘I personally think if I rule this stretch of river out today where we’re working I don’t think she’s here, I think there’s probably a third party involved,’ Mr Faulding told Good Morning Britain on Tuesday.
The forensic expert said he has spoken with Ms Bulley’s ‘distraught’ partner Paul Ansell to keep him updated on the search.
He said: ‘I spoke to Paul last night and asked him if she had any enemies, any stalkers, the normal questions you would ask. And nothing, he said no. And she was totally normal that day when she left, nothing out the ordinary.’