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It is an unfathomable mystery that has baffled police, tormented family and sparked thousands of outlandish conspiracy theories – where is missing mother-of-two Nicola Bulley?

But, as the search reaches its 15th day today, the picture of what may have become of the well-loved community figure on January 27 may be moving further into focus.

Ms Bulley, 45, disappeared without a trace at around 9.20am as she walked her springer spaniel Willow along their regular route in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancs.

Experts have identified to MailOnline a number of possibilities and clues that could help case

Experts have identified to MailOnline a number of possibilities and clues that could help case

Ms Bulley, 45, disappeared without a trace at around 9.20am as she walked her dog Willow

Ms Bulley, 45, disappeared without a trace at around 9.20am as she walked her dog Willow

Her mobile phone was found on a bench and the dog’s lead and harness on the ground of the footpath itself.

Willow was found by a member of the public – bone dry – and apparently agitated with Ms Bulley missing.

And the dog and a number of other clues and further investigations, identified by experts speaking to MailOnline, could prove to be the key to crack the case.

Mark Williams-Thomas, a former police detective who exposed Jimmy Savile, said officers needed to keep an open mind and focus on some key areas.

And ex Scotland Yard veteran Mick Neville believes what appeared to be a undecipherable riverbank disappearance could have a simpler solution.

Now MailOnline runs through their expert thoughts on how the mystery could and may be solved.

River – ‘why were divers focusing on that stretch of water?’

Mr Neville, who was in charge of Lambeth’s Missing Persons unit, said he on balance supported Lancashire’s working theory Ms Bulley may have fallen in the river.

But he added: ‘What I have found strange with the diving experts is the search of that specific area.

‘She has been missing for over 14 days now – she could be four miles away.

‘I would have put an object of her weight and size in the river to estimate how far she may have gone. That may be a way to track it if she is in the water.

‘Anthony Knott, the firefighter who died three years ago went into the River Ouse. His body was not found until three weeks later.

‘It shows the search should be hugely expanded. They must do everything they can to stop a body getting to the sea where it will be lost.’  

A member of the North West Police Underwater Search and Marine Unit, during the search of the River Wyre in St Michael's on Wyre, Lancashire, for missing woman Nicola Bulley

A member of the North West Police Underwater Search and Marine Unit, during the search of the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, for missing woman Nicola Bulley

Nicola's mobile phone was found on this bench with Willow's lead and harness on the ground

Nicola’s mobile phone was found on this bench with Willow’s lead and harness on the ground

The Bench – ‘police should have sealed that bank off immediately’

Both of the two former detectives believe mistakes may have been made with the initial police approach to the scene, which featured the now-notorious bench.

Mr Williams-Thomas said he would have treated the case differently from the start of the search.

He said: ‘This would now be a critical incident being dealt with as suspicious, if it had been down to me.

‘Within 48 hours I would have treated this in the same fashion as a murder or abduction. I think police have been right to say they have an open mind – the problem that they have got is that they also said it wasn’t criminal.’ 

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Mr Neville said the location should have been secured: ‘The police should have sealed that bank off immediately, there could have been something of forensic value there.

‘I think what Lancashire Police have made a mistake with is regarding the forensics at the scene – it should have been sealed off on Friday. 

‘Every picture I see of that river bank shows the edge is a sheer drop. So the lack of foot slip marks or any disturbed ground doesn’t stop me thinking she has fallen in. I think it is most likely she is in that river.

Willow may be the only living creature in the world that knows exactly what has happened

Willow may be the only living creature in the world that knows exactly what has happened

Willow, Nicola Bulley's spaniel,  who was with her when she vanished in St Michael's-on-Wyre

Willow, Nicola Bulley’s spaniel,  who was with her when she vanished in St Michael’s-on-Wyre

The Dog – ‘mobile phone and dog  harness still being there is a bit of a pointer’

Willow the springer spaniel may be the only creature on earth who knows exactly what has happened to Ms Bulley.

The pedigree dog has been at the centre of the mystery for the past two weeks, found wandering alone, bone dry at the last point she was seen.

For former Met detective Mick Neville, the animal could be the solution to the whole strange disappearance.

He told MailOnline: ‘From what I can tell from this case, something is really wrong. The mobile phone and the harness for the dog being there is a bit of a pointer.

‘The dog has been off the lead and that is why the phone and the harness are on the bench and path.

‘Maybe the dog has been running around and knocked her into the river, or she has lost her footing dodging it running about.

‘The phone has been put down on the bench because the dog has been running around.

‘Every picture I see of that river bank shows the edge is a sheer drop. So the lack of foot slip marks or any disturbed ground doesn’t stop me thinking she has fallen in. I think it is most likely she is in that river.’

Missing Nicola Bulley shown wearing her fitbit device, which could be crucial to the case

Missing Nicola Bulley shown wearing her fitbit device, which could be crucial to the case

Missing woman Nicola Bulley, 45, can be seen on the ring doorbell at her home in Inskip, Lancs

Missing woman Nicola Bulley, 45, can be seen on the ring doorbell at her home in Inskip, Lancs 

The Fitbit – ‘will show if her heartbeat stopped or changed’

Ms Bulley liked to exercise and would map journeys on fitness app Strava, walking with Willow nearly every day.

But it is one gadget many of us wear which could unlock where she could be found.

Her Fitbit may have collected data which will allow detectives to pinpoint her location.

Many are waterproof up to a depth of 50m which means if she did fall in the river, it could still have been working until its power failed.

If it had been set up a particular way, that information may have synched to her phone, which was found nearby on the bench.

Its importance had been suggested earlier this week by Peter Bleksley, a former undercover detective in the Met.

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And Mr Neville said the device could yield some potentially crucial clues.

He said: ‘The fitbit she wore is again something that could be very useful to police.

‘That will show her heartbeat and if it has stopped at any time or changed.

‘Can that be accessed and discovered where it stops moving?’

Police will now be going through CCTV, going house to house, as well as looking at ANPR

Police will now be going through CCTV, going house to house, as well as looking at ANPR

Lancashire Constabulary handout photo of missing woman Nicola Bulley, 45, captured on her Ring doorbell on Friday January 27

Lancashire Constabulary handout photo of missing woman Nicola Bulley, 45, captured on her Ring doorbell on Friday January 27

Digital footprint – ‘tech can help rule people out quickly’ 

Footprints at any crimescene are a staple of any fictional investigation and in real life the reality is somewhat different.

Nowadays a ‘digital footprint’ is more useful to police looking into an offence or a missing person.

Modern systems and technology means much of any individual’s life can be found online, with clues aplenty for investigators to trawl.

In many missing people cases, police can see when banks have been accessed and the network of cameras, personal and private are a treasure trove for officers.

With Ms Bulley, detectives will have built up an image of her life and any suggestion of what might have happened.

Mr Williams-Thomas confirmed: ‘Police will now be going through CCTV, going house to house, looking at ANPR, but the other thing they will be doing in detail is building up a picture of her.

‘The great advantage nowadays is that there is a footprint for most people, whether it’s on mobile phones or computers.

Mr Neville said the huge increase in technology also meant suspects in a lot of crimes could be ruled out quickly.

He added: ‘All these electronic devices – and CCTV – that we all have nowadays help to rule people out of enquiries nowadays.

‘In the past a number of people might have been quizzed that an now be quickly ruled out.’

There are other paths, identified in this MailOnline map, Nicola may have used on that day

There are other paths, identified in this MailOnline map, Nicola may have used on that day

People line the streets with placards asking for information on missing Nicola Bulley in the village of St Michael's on Wyre on Friday morning

People line the streets with placards asking for information on missing Nicola Bulley in the village of St Michael’s on Wyre on Friday morning

Other Paths – ‘you cannot rule possibilities like this out’

Part of Lancashire Police’s confidence over their theory Ms Bullen has fallen in the river is due to CCTV or cameras of some sort covering major paths.

There are three paths that lead to the riverbank and two of those are covered with the technology.

If Ms Bulley were to take her normal route she would have appeared on film.

Coupled with this, on the way to the riverbank she was sighted by a number of eyewitnesses. 

No-one saw her leave and she was not picked up on any of the cameras.

But that one other route should not be rules out, says Mr Neville, or her scrambling on unconventional means out.

He urged: ‘No-one can say whether or not routes not covered by CCTV haven’t been taken either by Nicola or someone else.

‘You cannot rule possibilities like this out. Investigators have to search these paths.

‘Has anything happened there, or is there any evidence that might have been missed?’  

An aerial view of the River Wyre in St Michael's on Wyre where missing woman Nicola Bulley was last seen on February 9

An aerial view of the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre where missing woman Nicola Bulley was last seen on February 9

Third party? – ‘look at registered sex offenders in the area’

St Michael’s on Wyre is a picture postcard village with very little recorded crime or anti-social behaviour.

But police will have already or will be continuing to build up a complete picture of who was in the area at the time of Ms Bulley’s disappearance.

The past two weeks of searching have been regularly punctuated by constabulary appeals to find individuals caught on CCTV at the time of her vanishing.

Every single one has been located, but the force will also be interested in some not seen there, but known to be in the area.

Mr Neville said: ‘Police will also be looking at registered sex offenders that are in or anywhere near the area.

‘If there are any, their movements will be accounted for as well as any similar cases being looked at again with this disappearance in mind.

‘There will be an intelligence unit scouring all of this.’

Lancashire Police Superintendent Sally Riley speaks to the media at St Michael's on Wyre Village Hall

Lancashire Police Superintendent Sally Riley speaks to the media at St Michael’s on Wyre Village Hall

Detective turned documentary maker Mark Williams-Thomas exposed Jimmy Savile

Detective turned documentary maker Mark Williams-Thomas exposed Jimmy Savile

Scope – ‘there is something more to this. Something sad’

Due to Ms Bulley still being missing two weeks on from her disappearance, there has been greater scrutiny of how the police have handled the probe.

The force had been adamant when the mother-of-two had first vanished there was nothing to suggest a third party or any criminal element.

For Mark Williams-Thomas, he believes had he been in charge of the investigation, he would have escalated it after two days. 

He told MailOnline:  ‘I think police have been right to say they have an open mind – the problem that have got is that they also said it wasn’t criminal.

‘Clearly something has happened to her, either by herself or a third party is involved.

‘There is no reason for her to go missing, she has left her dog, her children and her partner. People don’t just vanish.

‘Members of the public are thinking the police might know more than what they are saying, but I never give over-credit in these things.

‘The police have certainly given the impression they have more knowledge than what is out there, but what is contrary to that is what the family have been saying in their appeal.

‘I have investigated enough murders and missing people and this to me seems like there is something more to it. Something pretty sad.

‘This would now be a critical incident being dealt with as suspicious, if it had been down to me.

‘Within 48 hours I would have treated this in the same fashion as a murder or abduction’.

Anyone with information which could assist the police investigation should call Lancashire Police on 101 quoting log 0565 of January 30th.

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