Makers of true-crime podcasts and armchair sleuths with YouTube channels have been accused of making light of the disappearance of Nicola Bulley.
Last week, as police desperately searched for the mother-of-two and sent in underwater teams to search parts of the River Wyre, new episodes of popular podcasts appeared online speculating about what may have happened to her.
The amateur hosts of such shows have been criticised for being flippant and for showing shocking insensitivity while discussing the ongoing investigation, seemingly with scant consideration for Ms Bulley’s devastated loved ones.
Robots For Eyes, a Birmingham-based podcast that each month covers ‘conspiracies, crazy characters, UFOs, serial killers and mad historical events’, discussed Nicola’s disappearance at length in its most recent episode.
The 95-minute discussion between three friends begins with a warning from co-presenter Hannah Wood, who says ‘because this is so current, we have to be a bit more respectful and normal’ – before fellow hosts burst into giggles.
Laura Smart, the host of Unfathomable Crimes on YouTube, joined a viewer in discussing whether Ms Bulley was ‘another Sherri Papini’
Makers of true-crime podcasts and armchair sleuths with YouTube channels have been accused of making light of the disappearance of Nicola Bulley
They then encourage their thousands of listeners to dismiss the police hypothesis that Ms Bulley probably fell into the river – and instead draw attention to an abandoned house near the bench where her phone was found.
‘Don’t just listen to the narrative the police want us to think,’ said Ms Wood.
At one point, Wood forgets Nicola’s surname, and the trio sing a light-hearted theme tune.
The series has multiple sponsors and a page on Patreon, a microsite that helps podcasts to earn money from bonus content unavailable to ‘free’ listeners.
In another popular YouTube true-crime show, The Behaviour Panel, four body language experts discuss Ms Bulley’s partner, Paul Ansell, as well as what they described as his ‘possible involvement’ in her disappearance.
The episode, entitled Should Nicola Bulley’s boyfriend really be armchair detectives’ prime suspect?, racked up almost 150,000 views in just one day last week.
In it, self-proclaimed human behaviour expert Mark Bowden tries to explain Mr Ansell’s demeanour to the American show’s audience.
In another popular YouTube true-crime show, The Behaviour Panel, four body language experts discuss Ms Bulley’s partner, Paul Ansell, as well as what they described as his ‘possible involvement’ in her disappearance
‘He’s from the North of England, he’s going to be pretty stoic, he’s from Lancashire – there’s more negativity that goes on there,’ he said.
‘He’s not likely to be that culturally optimistic.’
Laura Smart, the host of Unfathomable Crimes on YouTube, joined a viewer in discussing whether Ms Bulley was ‘another Sherri Papini’.
Papini, from the US, staged her own kidnapping in 2016.
The Unfathomable Crimes host responded to the comment: ‘I hope not. No one needs another Sherri Papini!’
Most of the episodes on YouTube were punctuated by adverts, including those from leading retailers such as Boots and Garnier, as well as sex toy retailer Love Honey.
Video creators can choose to add adverts to their videos once they have a certain amount of subscribers, which gives them revenue every time to video is watched.
The true-crime genre, which involves a forensic analysis of gruesome offences, has exploded in popularity online in recent years.
It is the second most popular podcast genre in the UK, after comedy, and the most popular on TV.
A police Search and Rescue team in Knott End-on-Sea, Lancashire, on the southern side of Morecambe Bay on Friday
But some have questioned the ethics of it, accusing content creators of turning real crime into a grisly form of entertainment.
Martha Smith, an NHS mental health practitioner in the North West, told her social media followers: ‘Nicola Bulley’s case has really reframed all true crime for me. Seeing people […] posting their weird amateur theories and acting like this isn’t happening right this second to real people is gross.’
Last week, Lancashire Police called the level of online speculation over Ms Bulley’s disappearance as ‘totally unacceptable’.
Hosts of the true-crime podcasts and videos were approached for comment.
Laura Smart from Unfathomable Crimes said: ‘The people who inflate everything more is poor reporting, such as mention of CCTV lead police to believe that she hadn’t left the area then only two days ago the reporting is that there is CCTV that is not working.
‘I am of the belief that the police have their hypothesis correct, but as with most things in life nothing is 100%.
People are being urged to call police if they have any dashcam footage from the time she vanished
A more transparent police force would lead to less speculations, especially with the current public opinion of our police force when it comes to taking crimes against women seriously.’
The Behaviour Panel responded that they were ‘happy to put Mr. Ansell in a more accurate and positive light’.
‘Our analysis concluded that Mr. Ansell, in being cast quickly by a majority of “armchair detectives” as a perpetrator, was a classic victim of Othello’s Error: when the lie catcher fails to consider that a truthful person who is under stress may appear to be lying.’
They added that they ‘stand by the assertion that a strong Northern UK attitude should not be mistaken for guilt.’