Investigators should shift their messaging to the public and have an open mind during their search for missing mum Nicola Bulley, a former senior detective has told Sky News.
Officers have spent more than two weeks searching for Ms Bulley, who disappeared on 27 January close to the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, focussing on the 10 minutes between her last sighting, and her dog being found alone.
Underwater teams have scoured the river, while others have asked for dashcam and other footage to be turned over in the hunt for Ms Bulley.
People have also turned up in the village to join the search, with a dispersal order put in place after some risked their safety by looking in derelict and abandoned buildings.
Speaking to Sky News, former detective chief inspector Simon Harding said Lancashire Police needed to change the way it speaks to the public, to “reassure other people and stop people going to that scene and taking things into their own hands”.
“It can hinder quite a lot. It really can.
“I think the difference here is that you don’t have a cordoned off area where you can do your own enquiries in your own time and there would be all sorts of tests you would want to do in that river.
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“There are police divers… who are experts themselves – they don’t necessarily need other people.
“But now come out and say, ‘we’ve done this, we have done this CCTV, we’ve done this researching’ to stop people.
“It’s the messaging, which is the problem for me.”
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Police are putting their ‘eggs… into one basket’
Mr Harding also added the police need to have an open mind as to what might have happened to Ms Bulley, describing the officers saying they think she fell in the river as “the eggs… going into one basket”.
He also told Sky News he does not believe Ms Bulley’s family trusts the police when they say the most likely hypothesis is that she fell in the river.
“If you tell a family, and you would be telling the family everything that you had, the facts that you had – that she was in that river – they would be satisfied with that because as a senior officer, you’d be telling them that, and they would trust you about that,” he said.
“But the family haven’t got that trust – they don’t believe that.”
‘Most likely scenario’
In a statement to Sky News, Lancashire Police said: “Since Nicola went missing over two weeks ago, we have done an unprecedented amount to try and find her.
“This has involved a dedicated team of more than 40 detectives looking through hundreds of hours of CCTV and dashcam footage, speaking to numerous witnesses, carrying out digital enquiries and examining literally hundreds of pieces of information submitted by the public.
“Specialist resources from the police and other agencies including underwater search teams, drones, horses, dogs, and the police helicopter continue to comb the River Wyre and surrounding area down and out into the sea.
“We have also consulted with a number of national experts in their field, including environmental and tidal experts. We also carried out an extensive land search and the search of some properties around the area Nicola went missing.”
The force said it “stressed that we continue to keep an open mind about what might have happened to Nicola” and that potential scenarios were being looked at to eliminate them.
However, it added: “Based on all of the vast amount of work we have done up to now we continue to believe the most likely scenario is that Nicola has fallen into the river for some reason, but we have a dedicated team who are continuing to investigate all possibilities thoroughly.
“It remains the case at the present time that there is no information/evidence in all the exhaustive enquiries we have made that suggests any crime has been committed or that there is any third-party involvement in Nicola’s disappearance, but the investigation is ongoing.”