Nicola Bulley’s partner asked Mercedes to help ‘track’ her car keys, it emerged today – as former detectives criticised the police for not immediately cordoning off a bench near to where she vanished.
The mother of two, 45, went missing while walking her dog in the Lancashire village of St Michael’s on Friday, January 27. Her phone was found on a nearby bench with a dog lead and harness.
She had left her Mercedes in a nearby car park but the car keys have never been found.
Family friend Heather Gibbons said Ms Bulley’s boyfriend, Paul Ansell, had spoken of the need to track down her keys ‘from the get go’. ‘One of the first things he did was to contact Mercedes to see if they could be tracked,’ she told The Sun.
While most car keys cannot be tracked, some belonging to newer vehicles have GPS. However, there is no way of knowing whether Ms Bulley’s keys can be traced and Mercedes has refused to comment.
Nicola Bulley went missing while walking her dog in the Lancashire village of St Michael’s on Friday, January 27. She’s seen with her partner, Paul Ansell
The bench near to where Ms Bulley was last seen
It comes as former policemen criticised Lancashire Police for its approach to the investigation, saying they were wrong to ‘rule out foul play’ and not immediately to have cordoned off the river bank near to where she was last seen.
Martyn Underhill, a former Sussex Police detective who was a senior officer in the Sarah Payne murder investigation, said the bench where Ms Bulley’s phone was found should have been forensically swabbed.
‘That bench on that river in my view should have gone to a forensic laboratory,’ he told The Times. ‘If Nicola had been attacked there could be blood spatterings on it.’
He was backed Peter Bleksley a former Met detective and star of Channel 4’s Hunted series .
‘I was very surprised to see that in the early stages of this investigation the bench had not been taped off so people can’t enter the area and they can’t potentially destroy it or remove vital forensic evidence on the bottom of their shoes or boots,’ he told MailOnline.
‘But I didn’t see any great evidence of that. That gave me concern then and I still harbour concerns about that now.
‘You only get one chance to get it right, particularly in relation to crime scenes. I’ll accept that it may turn out that this wasn’t a crime scene. Conversely. Perhaps it might be. You only get the chance to get it right once.’
Mr Bleksley also criticised the police for saying early on in the investigation that they believed Ms Bulley had fallen into the river.
‘The police appeared to be utterly convinced, and the only theory they were exploring in the early stages was that Nicola went into the river,’ he said.
‘I would be very interested to see what the evidence is that brought them to that conclusion.
‘Because of the ongoing and widespread speculation that there is, if we were made privy to that information it might convince some people that the police got it right.
‘But until then there is going to be this rampant and non-stop speculation. I would have thought it wiser for the police to tell the public that they were exploring all options.’
Mr Faulding is a registered search expert with the National Crime Agency who has worked on numerous high profile investigations, including the case of serial killer Peter Tobin
Meanwhile, forensic search expert Peter Faulding doubled down on his insistence that Ms Bulley did not fall into the river.
He told MailOnline: ‘If she slipped down the bank she wouldn’t go far. The rocks would hold her in place and she’d only have been waist deep. She could have stood there and asked for help because people do walk by.
‘She’d have needed to be pushed extremely hard from behind to have launched herself into the deep water and experienced police divers have searched that thoroughly.’
Mr Faulding, a registered search expert with the National Crime Agency who has worked on numerous high profile missing person investigations, is convinced that had Ms Bulley ended up in the river her body would have been found.
He added: ‘Bodies don’t tend to move too far. If there were flood waters it would be different. But it wasn’t a raging torrent. The river was searched extremely thoroughly by the highly competent divers.’
The search for Ms Bulley, 45, is now entering its third week.
Mr Faulding, who has already carried out underwater searches for the missing mother, has urged locals to be on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary.
‘People in the wider vicinity for several miles around St Michael’s should be looking for any suspicious activity,’ he told The Times.
The 60-year-old is also calling for a wider land search to help locate Ms Bulley.
He told MailOnline that ‘if someone’s in the woods I will find them.’
Ms Bulley’s partner, Paul Ansell, attached a message to a bridge near to where she went missing reading: ‘Nikki I love you! Come home now’
Mr Faulding has given police a map of places a body may be hidden.
He said these are likely to be ‘ditches, hedgerows and wooded areas’ or anywhere it could be possible to park a car and dump a body without being seen.
The search for Ms Bulley has been dogged by unfounded theories spread online by true crime cranks, conspiracy theorists and social media trolls.
Yesterday, Wyre Council said it had temporarily removed contact details for ‘parish and town council members’, as Lancashire Police confirmed it is investigating.
In a statement, Wyre Council leader Michael Vincent said: ‘We appreciate the emotional gravity of the situation; however we will not tolerate any form of abuse of any of our elected members of Wyre Borough Council or any of the town and parish councils within our borders or our staff.
‘The community has shown great strength and resilience during the investigation and we urge everyone to continue to show compassion and empathy.
‘It is a shame that we have had to take this step at such a difficult time and appropriate steps are being taken to ensure that residents are still able to contact their elected representatives.’
The council added: ‘Wyre Council will log any reports of abuse and these will be forwarded to the police. Please be respectful.’
Its chief executive Garry Payne said: ‘Everyone is deeply saddened by the ongoing Nicola Bulley case and our thoughts are with the family and friends.
‘We are supporting Lancashire Police where required and we urge everyone to remain respectful at this time.’
Lancashire Police spokesperson said: ‘This has been reported to us and inquiries are ongoing.’
Police activity near the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire
Ms Bulley’s friends have raised concerns about broken CCTV cameras near to where she went missing
Ms Bulley vanished while walking her springer spaniel Willow near the river, shortly after dropping her daughters, aged six and nine, at school.
The mortgage adviser’s phone was found on a bench overlooking the river, still connected to a work call.
Police believe Ms Bulley may have ‘have fallen into the river for some reason’.
They have been searching from the river where she vanished to the sea.
The search in Morecambe Bay continued into its fifth day as officers on horseback surveyed elevated paths in the village of Knott End-on-Sea on Monday.
On Thursday, police extended the search for her body to the sea after detectives said finding her ‘in the open sea becomes more of a possibility’.
Last night, the mother of Libby Squire, who disappeared following a night out with friends in 2019, sent a message to Ms Bulley’s partner Paul Ansell urging him to never give up on searching for her.
‘Please don’t give up hope,’ Lisa said in comments reported by The Sun. Put one foot in front of the other and hope for that positive outcome. It’s the not knowing that’s so difficult.’
The mother of Libby Squire, who disappeared following a night out with friends in 2019, has sent a message to Ms Bulley’s partner Paul Ansell urging him to never give up on searching for her
Libby’s body was spotted in the Humber Estuary by a boat crew seven weeks after she went missing. Pawel Relowicz, a married father-of-two, was jailed for a minimum of 27 years for her murder
Libby’s body was spotted in the Humber Estuary by a boat crew seven weeks after she went missing.
Pawel Relowicz, a married father-of-two, was jailed for a minimum of 27 years for Libby’s murder.
Libby, a philosophy student at Hull University, had been out with friends when the killer chanced on her.
She caught a taxi home, which dropped her outside her house, but she didn’t go inside.
Drunk and dressed in party clothes, she had wandered in the wrong direction and laid down in the snow.
CCTV footage showed Libby, disoriented and possibly hypothermic, being ushered into a silver Vauxhall Astra which belonged to Relowicz, who lived half a mile from her house.