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The dog of missing mother-of two Nicola Bulley was in an ‘agitated state’ when it was found close to where she was last seen, MailOnline can reveal.

Willow, the Spaniel, was spotted by a woman near a slippery riverbank by a bench where Ms Bulley’s phone was found still dialled into a business call.

The dog was ‘bone dry’ meaning that the animal had not entered the water but appeared to be distressed by something.

Ms Bulley had dropped her two daughters off at primary school in the village of St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, at about 8.45am last Friday.

She then walked Willow to a nearby towpath by the River Wyre but has not been seen since.

Neighbours of Nicola Bulley have raised fears about the 'slippery riverbank' near to where the missing mother was last seen as police continue to probe her disappearance

Neighbours of Nicola Bulley have raised fears about the ‘slippery riverbank’ near to where the missing mother was last seen as police continue to probe her disappearance

It's been five days now since the mother-of-two vanished while walking her dog, springer spaniel Willow, on a towpath by the River Wyre in St Michael's on Wyre, Lancashire

It’s been five days now since the mother-of-two vanished while walking her dog, springer spaniel Willow, on a towpath by the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire

Police say they remain ‘open minded’ as to Ms Bulley’s disappearance but insist they do not believe at present that she was attacked.

Rescuers were today focusing their efforts on a tidal stretch of the river amid fears she may have fallen in and been washed out towards the coast at Fleetwood, some nine miles away.

A local told MailOnline: ‘I know the woman who found Willow. She said the dog was near the river bank and close to the bench that Nicola’s phone was found.

‘Willow was bone dry and so hadn’t been into the water but the dog was in an agitated state.’

Friends of Ms Bulley say that the doting mother would have never willingly left her family.

The parents of missing mother Nicola Bulley said today they feared their daughter may have been ‘taken’, but vowed to ‘never stop looking for her’ as police searched the perimeter of an ‘abandoned’ old house.

Ernest, 73, and Dot, 72, said Ms Bulley’s disappearance is out of character and revealed they asked police if ‘there is any chance’ she has been abducted. 

In other developments today, a friend reported that Ms Bulley was ‘laughing and joking’ with two others, potentially the last people to see her before she vanished.

Rescue teams have scoured the area near Garstang Road in St Michael’s on Wyre in Lancashire for clues over the 45-year-old’s mysterious disappearance last week.

Ms Bulley vanished five days ago while walking her dog, springer spaniel Willow, on a towpath by the River Wyre. Her phone was found on a bench nearby, still dialled into the business call she was on when she was last seen. 

An 'abandoned' old house and the surrounding areas have been searched in the hunt for missing mother Nicola Bulley

An ‘abandoned’ old house and the surrounding areas have been searched in the hunt for missing mother Nicola Bulley

Her father Ernest explained today how his daughter had just secured a new client at work.

He told The Mirror: ‘She had done her work and she was very upbeat about getting her mortgage sorted.

‘I said we better go now and Nicola came to the front door, and I gave her a kiss and told her I loved her and that was the last conversation I had with her.’

He added that the family have no idea what could have happened.

He said that there was ‘no sign’ of someone slipping or falling into the river – leading them to question if someone has taken her,

He added: ‘I asked the sergeant from Fleetwood a few days ago, “Is there any chance of her being taken?” and she said, ‘I don’t think that’s the case’.

The 73-year-old was not entirely convinced by the response as the location his daughter went missing in is ‘such an isolated area’.

Ernest continued: ‘We just dread to think we will never see her again, if the worst came to the worst and she was never found, how will we deal with that for the rest of our lives.’

 ‘We will never stop looking.’

The couple, who are joint owners of a freight transport company, have split their time between caring for their grandchildren, Nicola’s two young daughters, and looking for their own daughter. 

Rescue teams have scoured the area near Garstang Road in St Michael's on Wyre in Lancashire for clues over the 45-year-old's mysterious disappearance last week

Rescue teams have scoured the area near Garstang Road in St Michael’s on Wyre in Lancashire for clues over the 45-year-old’s mysterious disappearance last week

A search dog from Lancashire Police and a crew from Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service search the River Wyre for missing woman Nicola Bulley

A search dog from Lancashire Police and a crew from Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service search the River Wyre for missing woman Nicola Bulley

Ms Bulley’s mother Dot said the nights were the hardest.

She told he Mirror: ‘Our worst time is when it gets dark. We find it really hard to think about wondering “Is she OK” and “Where is she?”‘

She said that even though the police had told her and her husband that they were working on it ’24 hours a day’: ‘You wake in the night and you can’t get back off to sleep.’

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Meanwhile, a business owner who raised the alarm about Ms Bulley’s disappearance has spoken for the first time of the moment she came across her ‘worried’ dog Willow by the side of a river.

The woman, who did not want be named, spotted the brown springer spaniel on the river bank on Friday morning.

She also found Ms Bulley’s mobile phone on a bench by the side of the river, under a tree which has a sign warning of deep water nailed to it.

Bizarrely, Willow was running free and the woman found the dog’s harness on the ground next to the river.

She called her daughter-in-law who called Ms Bulley’s long-term partner Paul Ansell, who dialled 999.

The woman, who runs a business in picturesque St Michaels on Wyre, said she knew of Ms Bulley and hoped nothing ‘bad’ had happened to her.

Speaking today, she said: ‘I saw the dog and I recognised it, but I suddenly couldn’t think whose dog it was.

‘There was a mobile phone on the bench and there was also something between the bench and the river so I went and looked, and it was a dog harness.

‘The dog looked worried so I tied her up and rushed home as I had to go to an appointment.

‘I then went and spoke to my daughter-in-law and she immediately knew who the dog was, alerted the woman’s partner and that was it – the police were on it.’

A poster from Lancashire Police asks for information in the search for missing woman Nicola Bulley

A poster from Lancashire Police asks for information in the search for missing woman Nicola Bulley

Search teams have once again been scouring the area following the disappearance last week

Search teams have once again been scouring the area following the disappearance last week

A poster seeking information in the search for missing woman Nicola Bulley is seen near the bench where her mobile phone was found

A poster seeking information in the search for missing woman Nicola Bulley is seen near the bench where her mobile phone was found

Today, specialist search teams were pictured once again searching the river, this time helped by a police sniffer dog.

The animals are able to search large areas of water, both lakes and rivers, and are able to perform a search in approximately 10 per cent of the time taken by other search techniques.

Officers were seen combing the area for clues on the river bank either side of the water.

On one side of the river is the bench where police found her phone still linked to a work conference call.

A danger sign warning of deep water is nailed to a tree behind the bench – joined now by a missing person poster appealing for information about her disappearance.

Across the water, an apparently abandoned house can be seen. Officers are believed to have searched its grounds.

Volunteers who have helped with the operation spoke of the ‘posh’ house last night but said it would be left to the police to search the property. 

Ms Bulley’s partner, Mr Ansell, who was being comforted by relatives at the couple’s home in Inskip, around two miles from where she vanished, was too upset to speak today.

It comes after detectives probing the disappearance spoke to a ‘key witness’ who may have been the last person to see Ms Bulley as he walked his own dog.

Lancashire Police said they were keeping an ‘open mind’ about what may have happened to Mr Bulley, but said they’d found no evidence of foul play.

Superintendent Sally Riley said: ‘I must stress at this time that this remains a missing person inquiry and at this time there is nothing to suggest any third-party involvement in Nicola’s disappearance.’

Ms Bulley's daughters 'cried their eyes out' as their father, Paul Ansell, tried to console them while stricken with fear and grief himself

Ms Bulley’s daughters ‘cried their eyes out’ as their father, Paul Ansell, tried to console them while stricken with fear and grief himself

Meanwhile, neighbours have raised fears about the ‘slippery riverbank’ near to where the missing mother was last seen.

Her disappearance comes more than two decades after a toddler drowned in the same river less than six miles from where Ms Bulley was last seen.

The body of two-year-old Reece Maybury washed up half a mile downstream from the riverside camp site he had been staying at with family.

A neighbour said of Ms Bulley last night: ‘The family is extremely close-knit. They are very loving and they will be in absolute pieces. It’s a mystery. They just have no idea where she is.

‘We went out on the search on Sunday and she has taken the dog there loads of times but the banks of the river can be very slippery.’

She added: ‘You just don’t know, do you, but I do know that she would have never ever left those children voluntarily. The whole family is doting.

‘I would imagine Nicola was a doting mum. They are the loveliest people you could ever wish to meet. I think everyone is devastated because she seemed the kind of girl who didn’t have a bad bone in her body.

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‘She was extremely pleasant and homely. She lived for her daughters and Paul. The family will be heartbroken.

‘Every week her parents go to Nicola’s and pick their grandchildren up and come back here. I can’t imagine what they are going through and they just have no idea where she could be.

‘It has made us quite upset. Nicola had a nice family and a nice job and she was a lovely person.’

Police search the perimeter of the deserted house as the operation enters its sixth day

Police search the perimeter of the deserted house as the operation enters its sixth day

The search continues in St Michaels on Wyre for Nicola Bulley, who was last seen on Friday morning

The search continues in St Michaels on Wyre for Nicola Bulley, who was last seen on Friday morning

A search dog from Lancashire Police and a crew from Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service search the River Wyre for missing woman Nicola Bulley

A search dog from Lancashire Police and a crew from Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service search the River Wyre for missing woman Nicola Bulley

It comes as the distraught partner of the missing mother tried to gently break the news that ‘mummy is lost’ to their two little girls, aged nine and six. 

Ms Bulley’s daughters ‘cried their eyes out’ as Mr Ansell tried to console them while stricken with fear and grief himself.

And while he is trying to be ‘as strong as possible’ for the sake of his girls, he has tried to explain the basics to them.

His father, David, said: ‘The children have been told, ‘Mummy’s missing’, but they haven’t been told the full details,’ according to The Sun.

‘When they were told, they absolutely cried their eyes out.’

And Ms Bulley’s mum said: ‘Paul had to tell the girls what was going on. He just told them, ”Mummy’s lost”. It’s heartbreaking.’ 

Speaking from the family home in Inskip, Mr Ansell said he spent all of Sunday searching for his partner of 12 years.

The engineer said: ‘It is just perpetual hell. It is just utter disbelief. We are living through this but it doesn’t feel real.

‘All we can say is we need to find her. She’s got two little girls that need their mummy home. We have got to get some good news now.’

Kev Camplin, of Bowland Pennine Mountain Rescue, jumped into action in the hours after she disappeared, leading a team of 25 trained volunteers to search the immediate vicinity that same day.

He told The Mirror: ‘The abandoned house is right opposite the bench on the other side of the river, over a 10ft garden wall. It’s quite posh.

In November Ms Bulley posted how visibility on her dog walk had been poor as well as spooky

In November Ms Bulley posted how visibility on her dog walk had been poor as well as spooky

‘We didn’t go into the house, as a volunteer search and rescue team we don’t actually go into buildings. We might go into a barn or something. We leave that to the police. 

‘While the team was searching the grounds, the owner was there for some reason, and we asked him to go in and he had a quick look around and she wasn’t there.’ 

The team arrived at the location about 1pm after receiving a midday alert, and searched tirelessly until about 8pm. 

The revelation comes after Lancashire Police said today they had found a ‘key witness’ who they believe could help find the missing mother. 

Police said the witness, who was walking a white fluffy dog in the area, was ‘currently being spoken to’.

The man ‘spoke to the woman in the area who found Nicola’s dog near a bench in the field’, the force said in an earlier statement.

Ms Bulley was reportedly last seen by a man walking his dog in the vicinity about 9.15am. The man has spoken with police. 

His wife, a 57-year-old software engineer, told The Times her husband was one of three people in the field the morning Ms Bulley disappeared.

‘He said there was nothing unusual about her and she seemed completely normal,’ she said. ‘I’d often see her and say hello. I always thought she looked very nicely dressed, in her bobble hat and smart wellington boots. It’s just horrible to know she’s missing.’

Villager Nicola Dewey told the publication she’d skipped her usual river walk for two days running in the wake of Ms Bulley’s disappearance.

‘It’s really stunned people. It’s silly, but we are now locking our doors,’ she said. 

The bench where Ms Bulley is thought to have left her mobile phone before she vanished

The bench where Ms Bulley is thought to have left her mobile phone before she vanished

Ben Pociecha, the director of Exclusively Mortgages, said Ms Bulley had logged on to a team meeting at 9.01am. ‘It seems as if she was muted and didn’t have her camera on. She was listening in whilst walking her dog,’ he told MailOnline.

‘There were numerous parties involved in this. A lot of people attended the call. The police are investigating the call.’

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Ms Bulley has lived in Lancashire for 25 years, but is originally from near Chelmsford, Essex, and has a southern accent. 

Her brother-in-law Stephen Cunningham said: ‘The whole family, as expected, are struggling to understand what’s happened and worried beyond words.’ 

In a statement, Ms Bulley’s family said: ‘We have been overwhelmed by the support from our community and would like to thank everyone for their ongoing efforts to help us find Nicola. The girls are desperate to have their mummy back home safe with them and your ongoing efforts have provided comfort to them whilst we await news on Nicola.

‘We ask for anyone who thinks they may have any information that may help the police find Nicola to please come forward and help them with their inquiries.’ 

It came as a social media post emerged where Ms Bulley shared pictures of herself walking her beloved dog Willow, close to where she vanished on January 27. 

In it, she said: ‘A very foggy cold walk this morning, not a day to forget your gloves! Bit spooky too! Set me up for the day though and Willow had the best time.’

Specialist search teams today combed the River Wyre, off Garstang Road in St Michael’s on Wyre, and surrounding countryside in an effort to locate the mortgage advisor.

Villagers also joined in the search for the mum of two.

Mick Peter, 37, spent his lunch break searching. He said: ‘It’s impacted on the whole community. I have come out just to help. This is a lovely area that is popular with dog walkers.

‘I walk my dog here every day and I always see other people out walking. Someone must have seen something. I hope she turns up safe.’

Ms Bulley had been out walking this dog, Willow, when she was reported missing on Friday

Ms Bulley had been out walking this dog, Willow, when she was reported missing on Friday

Police search a bank alongside the River Wyre close to where the missing mother of two was last seen on Friday morning

Police search a bank alongside the River Wyre close to where the missing mother of two was last seen on Friday morning

Police are appealing for any information on Mr Bulley’s whereabouts. She is described as white, 5ft 3in, with light brown shoulder-length hair.

At the time of her disappearance she was wearing a long black gilet jacket with a hood, black jeans and olive green ankle wellington boots. Her hair was in a ponytail.

In an update on Monday, police said they were keeping an ‘open mind’ about what happened, but do not believe Ms Bulley was attacked.

Police are searching for the missing mother and are concerned as to her whereabouts

Police are searching for the missing mother and are concerned as to her whereabouts

Mr Ansell said he or Ms Bulley, also known as Nikki, would drop their children off at a local primary school before taking Willow for a walk along the river nearby.

Ms Bulley did the school run before heading for the dog walk on Friday, police indicated.

‘I got a call from the school regarding somebody who had found Willow, Nikki’s phone and the dog lead and harness on the bench,’ Mr Ansell, who then called the police, said.

Superintendent Sally Riley from Lancashire Police told the Mirror that Ms Bulley’s phone was still on an active call when it was found: ‘It was on a meeting call, and that was still live. It was connected to the conference call and that hadn’t been terminated.’

The officer told a press conference that fears for Ms Bulley are growing as time passes.

She said: ‘The police are keeping a really open mind about what could have happened but we do believe that the likelihood is that Nicola has gone missing and this is not a crime inquiry.

‘We’ve mounted a really intensive operation to try to find Nicola. We’ve got a large area to search. People do go missing but clearly as time goes on we become more and more concerned for Nicola.

‘But we’re very much hoping that we will find something to try to bring her home safe and well soon.

‘We appeal for anyone who may have been driving through the village of St Michael’s last Friday morning at about 9.15am or who may have dashcam footage that could be of use to us, or people who may have been dog-walking in the area or on the tow path, to come forward. They can ring 101 or, if they have a sighting of Nicola, 999.’

Searches have been carried out by Lancashire Police, using a helicopter, drones and dogs with support from Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, Bowland Pennine Mountain Rescue team and the North West Underwater Search Team.

Locals have also organised searches in the area.

  • Anybody with information can call 101, quoting log 473 of January 27, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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