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Police have found a body in the search for missing mother-of-two Nicola Bulley after a tip-off from walkers, more than three weeks after she disappeared.

A huge search operation was launched this morning at a spot less than a mile from where the 45-year-old went missing in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire.

Senior Investigating Officer Rebecca Smith was seen arriving at the scene as Lancashire Police confirmed the discovery.

The force said they were unable to confirm whether the body is of missing Ms Bulley at this time as they wait for formal identification to be carried out. 

A spokesman said: ‘We were called today at 11.36am to reports of a body in the River Wyre, close to Rawcliffe Road.

Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith, the senior investigating officer in Ms Bulley's case, arrives at the scene of the search

Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith, the senior investigating officer in Ms Bulley’s case, arrives at the scene of the search

A police diving team at the River Wyre near St Michael's on Wyre, Lancashire, on Sunday as police continue their search for missing woman Nicola Bulley, 45

A police diving team at the River Wyre near St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, on Sunday as police continue their search for missing woman Nicola Bulley, 45

The 45-year-old mortgage adviser Nicola Bulley (pictured) vanished during a dog walk in St Michael's on Wyre

The 45-year-old mortgage adviser Nicola Bulley (pictured) vanished during a dog walk in St Michael’s on Wyre

‘An underwater search team and specialist officers have subsequently attended the scene, entered the water and have sadly recovered a body. 

‘No formal identification has yet been carried out, so we are unable to say whether this is Nicola Bulley at this time.

‘Procedures to identify the body are on-going. We are currently treating the death as unexplained.

‘Nicola’s family have been informed of developments and our thoughts are with them at this most difficult of times. We ask that their privacy is respected.’

Police scrambled a huge search after the two walkers spotted the body. Detective superintendent Smith arrived moments before police confirmed the heartbreaking discovery.

The male walker was seen ashen faced as he talked to police and pointed at an outcrop of trees and undergrowth along the bank, saying: ‘There’s definitely a body there’.

By 1pm on Sunday police drones and a helicopter hovered over the outcrop of trees and undergrowth, while police divers took to the banks of the river Wyre.

Soon afterwards, Lancashire Police confirmed that a body had been located in the river. 

Lancashire Police shut the entire stretch of Rawcliffe Road within minutes of the call and refused to give any reason to journalists at the scene.

A police car is now standing watch and refusing to let locals within half a mile of the area as a helicopter and drone circles overhead.

The force has refused to say why they have been called to the area. It is the most dramatic search since Ms Bulley went missing over three weeks ago.

A witness said: ‘I drove down Rawcliffe Road for almost a mile. I noticed a man and a woman and two police officers on the embankment.

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‘I pulled off at about 11.50am and I heard the man talking to police about something in the undergrowth.

‘Police cars were flying down the road with the blues and twos going. A police officer pulled up a few minutes later and got his drone out.

‘Five minutes later the police helicopter arrived. Officers then asked to me get out so I moved 200 yards down the road.

‘I could still clearly see the man pointing at the riverbank. Then more police cars raced down with the blues and twos going. They cleared the entire road.’

The man and woman were later seen sat on a wall by the scene looking ashen faced and vaping.

The 45-year-old mother-of-two was last seen on January 27 while walking her dog by the river in St Michael’s-on-Wyre after dropping her daughters – aged six and nine – at school.

A member of the public today appears to point towards a spot in the undergrowth by the river Wyre while police watch on

A member of the public today appears to point towards a spot in the undergrowth by the river Wyre while police watch on

Multiple police cars were pictured at the scene as the helicopter flew overhead

Multiple police cars were pictured at the scene as the helicopter flew overhead

Police officers and divers were pictured at the scene on Sunday afternoon, although it is unclear what, if anything, has been found

Police officers and divers were pictured at the scene on Sunday afternoon, although it is unclear what, if anything, has been found

Lancashire Police issued the update on its Facebook page and requested Ms Bulley's family's privacy be respected

Lancashire Police issued the update on its Facebook page and requested Ms Bulley’s family’s privacy be respected

Her partner Paul Ansell, 44, has maintained hope she is still alive despite officers saying their main working hypothesis remains that Ms Bulley is in the river.

Ms Bulley vanished after dropping off her daughters, aged six and nine, at school on January 27 in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire.

She was last seen at 9.10am taking her usual route with her springer spaniel Willow, alongside the River Wyre, shortly after dropping her girls, aged nine and six, off at school. 

Her phone, still connected to a work call, was found just over 20 minutes later on a bench overlooking the riverbank, with her dog running loose.

Speaking about the new search, former Scotland Yard Detective Peter Bleksley told Sky News: ‘If ever there’s a sign of information that is received by the police… then seeing lots of resources deployed in a fairly short space of time is not uncommon.’

He added: ‘As I’ve stated almost from the start of this search sometimes rivers and seas and canals can be slow to give up their secrets. We will have to wait and see.

‘I’ve been very vocal of my criticism of the messaging from Lancashire Police. I’ve felt that some of the messaging wasn’t as accurate as it should have been, because details are important, and I felt that the press conference that they held on Wednesday was very clumsy in certain regards.’

Diving and search specialists discuss the situation with one another from the side of the bank

Diving and search specialists discuss the situation with one another from the side of the bank

Four members of the police appeared to be involved in a search of the River Wyre on Sunday

Four members of the police appeared to be involved in a search of the River Wyre on Sunday

A Lancashire officer observes the ground near to the spot the two walkers pointed police to

A Lancashire officer observes the ground near to the spot the two walkers pointed police to

A police helicopter was pictured over St Michael's on Wyre for the first time in days

A police helicopter was pictured over St Michael’s on Wyre for the first time in days

Nicola Bulley, 45, from Inskip, Lancashire, was last seen on the morning of Friday January 27, when she was spotted walking her dog on a footpath by the River Wyre off Garstang Road in St Michael’s on Wrye

Nicola Bulley's sister shared a heartbreaking message on Friday, appealing for Ms Bulley to 'come home now'

Nicola Bulley’s sister shared a heartbreaking message on Friday, appealing for Ms Bulley to ‘come home now’

On February 3, Lancashire Police told the public of its main hypothesis that Ms Bulley had fallen into the River Wyre in a ’10-minute window’ between 9.10am and 9.20am on the day she disappeared. 

But multiple experts and Ms Bulley’s own family said they did not believe this to be true. 

This week they held a second press conference in which they referenced individual ‘vulnerabilities’ that meant she had immediately been classed as a ‘high-risk’ missing persons case.

But hours later they issued a shock statement detailing Ms Bulley’s struggles with alcohol, brought on by significant symptoms of being peri-menopausal and having stopped taking her HRT medication. 

Ms Bulley’s family said in a statement on Friday that they feared her decision to stop taking her hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drugs may have played a factor in her disappearance.

‘Due to the perimenopause Nikki suffered with significant side effects such as brain fog, restless sleep and was taking HRT to help but this was giving her intense headaches which caused Nikki to stop taking the HRT thinking that may have helped her but only ended up causing this crisis,’ the statement said.

They added: ‘Nikki is such a wonderful daughter, sister, partner and mother and is missed dearly – we all need you back in our lives.

‘Nikki, we hope you are reading this and know that we love you so much and your girls want a cuddle. We all need you home.’

Today’s news came after it was revealed overnight one of the UK’s top detectives was personally advising Lancashire Police on the case. 

The unnamed detective from the NCA, often referred to as Britain’s FBI, has worked on some of the UK’s most high-profile cases including killer and morgue monster David Fuller and the murder of PCSO Julia James, the organisation told MailOnline. 

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The police have so far failed to find Ms Bulley, 45, after she vanished without a trace while walking her springer spaniel, named Willow, more than three weeks ago.

Lancashire Police have also received the aid of a forensic psychologist and dog behavioural expert.

It comes amid fierce criticism of police for releasing personal health details about Ms Bulley this week, including from Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt and PM Rishi Sunak.

Criticism of the force has been mounting since the 45-year-old’s disappearance on January 27.

It has now been more than three weeks since Ms Bulley vanished near to her home in Inskip.

Police officers have been combing the area for more than three weeks for the missing mother

Police officers have been combing the area for more than three weeks for the missing mother

A police helicopter hovers over the River Wyre in St Michael's on Wyre, Lancashire today as police continue their search for missing woman Nicola Bulley

A police helicopter hovers over the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire today as police continue their search for missing woman Nicola Bulley

Yellow ribbons with messages of hope are tied to a park bench in St Michael's on Wyre

Yellow ribbons with messages of hope are tied to a park bench in St Michael’s on Wyre

Lancashire Police have launched a probe into their investigation, which appears to have stalled, but have raised questions by not taking up offers from other forces such as the Metropolitan Police to conduct the review instead.

This week police publicly divulged information about Nicola Bulley’s battles with alcohol brought on by the menopause – a decision critics blasted as ‘sexist’.

Former police officers have also questioned why basic actions such as closing off the area where Ms Bulley’s phone and dog were discovered for forensic examination were not completed.

The force has confirmed a date has been set for the internal review, which will be conducted by their Head of Crime, Detective Chief Superintendent Pauline Stables – but that date has not been made public.

On Friday Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley offered to conduct a review on behalf of the force, but Lancashire Police were criticised after deciding to do it themselves.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has also received a referral from the force regarding the contact officers had with Ms Bulley on January 10 – before she went missing.

Meanwhile PM Rishi Sunak, speaking about the release of personal details after Lancashire Police announced it will conduct an internal review, said he is ‘pleased police are looking at how that happened in the investigation’.

Lancaster Police have been contacted for comment. 

This is a breaking news story and is being updated. 

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