A report has criticised the police handling of the disappearance of Nicola Bulley, stating there was ‘insufficient focus’. Nicola, a 45-year-old mother of two, was discovered dead in the River Wyre in Lancashire on February 19 this year after vanishing while walking her dog in St Michael’s on Wyre on January 27.
Her disappearance sparked speculation on TikTok, with videos containing the hashtag of her name garnering 270 million views. Social media users joined the search, leading Lancashire Police to log over 500 media calls and 75,000 inbound social media comments about the case.
Today’s published review, a 143-page document from the College of Policing with 17 recommendations, revealed that the force lost control of the public narrative early on, despite handling the missing person investigation well. Errors of judgment from senior officers who ‘observed but did not act’ were highlighted, questioning the culture of the force.
Police failed to brief the media effectively due to a breakdown of trust between officers and outlets, resulting in an ‘information vacuum and unchecked speculation’. Online speculation about Nicola’s disappearance caused significant pressure on Lancashire Police. The review suggested that a critical incident should have been declared due to the falling levels of public confidence. Instead, information about Nicola’s difficulties with menopause was disclosed amid questions over medical factors. The report criticized the unnecessary public release of her personal information.
Chief Constable Andy Marsh, who leads the College of Policing, emphasized that the review aimed to identify areas of learning for the constabulary and wider policing rather than attributing blame. He commended Lancashire Constabulary’s exemplary investigation and well-conducted search.
The report recommended rebuilding the fractured relationship between police and the media. Dr Iain Raphael, who led the review, emphasized the importance of a professional, trusted working relationship between the police and the media for public confidence.
Deputy Chief Constable Sacha Hatchett from Lancashire Police acknowledged the overwhelming media demand and stated that, with hindsight, there are things they would do differently in the future. She highlighted the detrimental effect of social media on the case and emphasized the need for more focus on this aspect in policing.