Leave Nicola Bulley’s partner alone, friends say
Friends of Nicola Bulley have pleaded with social-media bullies to stop levelling “disgusting accusations” at her partner and spreading “vile theories” online.
In a moving post on Facebook, a close friend of the couple said Ms Bulley’s partner Paul Ansell was suffering “hurt and pain” while “completely focusing” on looking after their two young children.
The friend, Tilly Ann, said she was revealing details of the case with permission of Ms Bulley’s family to correct errors being aired in public. She said the existence of CCTV at the couple’s home explained “why Paul has never been a suspect”.
Tilly Ann also gave details of the case, some of which have puzzled armchair detectives who have tried to understand how Ms Bulley, 45, a mother-of-two, vanished on Jan 27 during a dog walk along the River Wyre in Lancashire.
Police have said their “main hypothesis” remains that Ms Bulley fell into the water accidentally and yesterday a police boat equipped with underwater cameras continued to trawl the river at St Michael’s on Wyre in search of her body.
In her Facebook post, Tilly Ann said Ms Bulley’s spaniel Willow had been found at the scene dry – rather than wet – and that the dog’s harness was found on the ground close to the bench from where she had logged into a Microsoft Teams call at 9.01am and that had ended at 9.30am.
She said the harness was usually removed at the gate where the riverside walk began. She said Willow had since returned to the scene. She did not explain why but it is likely police will have taken the dog back to see if the spaniel could pick up a scent of its owner. She also said Ms Bulley, who had just dropped her children off at school before the dog walk, made calls with the mobile phone on loudspeaker setting.
On Facebook, Tilly Ann wrote: “I can’t sit back anymore and not act with regards the hurt and distress that is being caused by some very inappropriate comments.”
Watch: Witness comes forward as search for missing Nicola Bulley reaches 10th day
She said a television interview given by Mr Ansell to highlight his partner’s disappearance had been “devastating” to watch, adding: “We can see the hurt and pain and can see how much he’s struggling to hold back the tears. He is completely focusing on his girls because if he even stops to think about anything else, he will lose it and he doesn’t want to worry his girls even more than they already are. He was terrified doing a live interview as I know I would be.”
She went on: “Paul and Nikki [Ms Bulley] both mostly work from home which is why he was at home that day. They have CCTV and there is a reason why Paul has never been a suspect. Family and friends need these accusations to stop immediately. The fact that I’ve had to write this is disgusting to be honest.”
She said the couple walked the route “regularly”, and that “the dog never has her harness on for a chunk of that walk, it’s removed at the gate of the top field and then put back on at the gate when they leave”.
She said the couple “very rarely” take a ball out for the dog, the implication being that Ms Bulley could not have fallen into the river in attempting to retrieve the dog’s ball. Tilly Ann added: “Nikki is an incredibly strong swimmer.”
Leanne Grace, a friend of the couple who now lives in Australia, “It’s devastating to learn of some of the accusations being made. The focus should be on finding Nikki and bringing her home.”
“It’s awful seeing the comments... I know Paul well and all I could see was the pain and worry etched in his face. He is trying to stay strong and focused on the girls.
“The family are doing so much work behind the scenes to try and find some answers.”
Another friend of Ms Bulley said speculation posted online had been deeply upsetting. Heather Gibbons, 33, told BBC North West Tonight: “The speculation is massive. I mean it’s human nature – everyone’s going to have their thoughts, their theories, everyone will be speculating.
“But to see some of the vile speculation online – some of the theories that are incredibly, incredibly hurtful – I don’t think people are realising that the family are sitting at home and are able to access and see all of that.”
She said she was concerned that “as [Ms Bulley’s daughters] get older, they will be able to look back and they will be able to see everything that was said”.
Lancashire Police said on Saturday night that a “key witness” had come forward and with it issued a strong warning “against “totally unacceptable” speculation and abuse on social media.
The force said: “The speculation and abuse on social media aimed at some people who are merely assisting our enquiry is totally unacceptable.
“We would urge people to remember that we are investigating the disappearance of Nicola, and the priority is Nicola and her family. We want to find her and provide answers to her family.”
Detectives said they had found “no evidence of a slip or fall” near the bench but insist there is also “no evidence” of anything suspicious. Officers said it would be possible to fall into the river at a steep bank without leaving a trace.
One resident in St Michael on Wyre said he had seen a “tatty red van” in the area on the day Ms Bulley had gone missing and had reported the sighting to police.
At a church service on Sunday, friends of Ms Bulley spoke of how they had rallied around the couple to offer support for the children.
Jill Peck, a friend of Ms Bulley, said it was particularly hard for the missing mother’s two children, aged six and nine. “They’ve got all the same emotions as everybody else and they want to see their mum, and they don’t know where she is,”
Ms Peck told Sky News. “They just desperately want her home and all they are asking all the time is ‘where is she and is she coming home?’”