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A witness has reportedly told police they saw two men ‘acting suspiciously’ outside a church close to where Nicola Bulley went missing – a day before her disappearance.

The mother-of-two, 45, vanished while walking her dog along their regular route in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, shortly after taking her two daughters to school at around 9.15am on January 28.

Police have been working under the hypothesis that she got into trouble in the River Wyre and drowned, but despite meticulously combing the water, dive teams have found no trace of Ms Bulley.

However, a witness has now told police they saw two men acting suspiciously close to the route of her dog walk 24 hours before she went missing, The Sun reports.

They say they then saw one the two men in the same area on the morning she went missing, amid increasing signs that police are beginning to treat the disappearance as a crime.

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

A missing person appeal poster for Nicola Bulley on a bridge crossing the River Wyre on Saturday

A missing person appeal poster for Nicola Bulley on a bridge crossing the River Wyre on Saturday

Detectives are understood to have subsequently visited St Michael’s Garage on Thursday to request CCTV from the time of the witness’ report.

A member of staff at the garage said: ‘Two smartly dressed officers came in following up, a man and a woman. They wanted the CCTV from the day before Nicola vanished and to take statements of any activity we had seen from that day.

‘These officers were different to the ones in uniform, they seemed very assertive.’

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They added: ‘I know who the witness is and he has already called police about what he saw.

‘But he said he wanted to make sure they were chasing this up so I asked the officers about it and they said they were following it up.’

The witness is said to have  seen the men by the local church and by a bridge close to Ms Bulley’s route on January 26.

They reportedly saw the one of the individuals near a bridge at a footpath used regularly by the missing mother the following day.

The garage worker continued: ‘He saw what he saw and wanted to make sure the police followed it up.

‘Whether them collecting the CCTV from the same day is connected, I don’t know.’

It comes as the police search for Ms Bulley has entered a 17th day.

Police have been working under the theory she may have fallen into the River Wyre, possibly while trying to help her dog. 

But cops have also admitted that she could have left the area via a path not covered by cameras.

Three blind-spots have been identified in the area surrounding where Ms Bulley went missing.

Yellow ribbons with messages of hope written on them, are tied to a bridge over the River Wyre in St Michael's on Wyre

Yellow ribbons with messages of hope written on them, are tied to a bridge over the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre

One of the yellow ribbons placed on the bridge today reads: 'Praying for your safe return'

One of the yellow ribbons placed on the bridge today reads: ‘Praying for your safe return’

One path in question leads to Garstang Road, which runs through the village. Officers have been attempting to trace dashcam footage from 700 drivers who passed along this route at the time of her disappearance.

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Aside from the river itself, there are only two other exits from the area, one of which is covered by CCTV.

Friends of the missing mother have claimed that CCTV covering the other exit, close to mobile home site Rowanwater, is not working.

This camera would have covered the fields to the south of where Ms Bulley was last seen.

After reviewing other CCTV footage from within the mobile home site, police are confident that Nicola did not leave the field near the river via Rowanwater itself.

Another blind-spot is a riverside path leading from the Wyreside Farm Caravan Park through to the A586, or Garstang Road.

It comes after Peter Faulding, founder of the Specialist Group International team that assisted police in the river search, this week admitted it was his belief that she is not in the water – raising the prospect of a ‘third party’ involvement in the disappearance.

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

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

Meanwhile, former Metropolitan Police chief superintendent Philip Flower said ‘neither the facts nor the evidence’ support the official police hypothesis.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, he said: ‘Ms Bulley was a good swimmer. The water wasn’t fast flowing. There are no slip-marks on the riverbank.

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‘And there doesn’t appear to be anything that would indicate she could have hit her head and become unconscious.

‘The police cannot afford to make such unsupported judgments in this day and age when, quite rightly, they are constantly under more rigorous scrutiny.

‘Mistakes inevitably erode trust in the vital contract between citizens who, through their taxes, fund those officers of the law to protect them.’ 

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