Only just got round to transcribing the presser.
TRANSCRIPTION OFPRESS CONFERENCE
- A very good morning and thank you for your flexibility with the slight change in timing for this press conference. My name is Peter Lawson and I'm Assistant Chief Constable, here with Lancashire Constabulary. I'm joined to my left by Detective Superintendent, Becky Smith. Becky's the Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) in the investigation to find Nicola Bulley. I want to thank you for making the effort to come here this morning so we could give you an update on our investigation to find Nicola. She and her family remain foremost in our thoughts and our priorities in the investigation.
So what Becky and I will say today has already been made public, and this has been widely reported, but I am acutely aware that there continues to be extensive media interest, commentary, speculation and indeed some criticism of our police investigation. Therefore, to try and address some of that we will take you through, in some detail, more than would normally be the case with an investigation, what exactly we've done over the last 19 days and continue to do.
To remind us - Nicola went missing on the morning of Friday, 27th. January and since that time we have done an unprecedented amount of work on the investigation to try and find her. The sole focus of that work is to find Nicola, to bring her home to her family and give them the answers they so desperately need. The investigation has involved a dedicated team of more than 40 detectives. They've been looking through hundreds of hours of CCTV, dashcam footage, speaking to numerous witnesses, carrying out digital enquiries and examining literally hundreds of pieces of information submitted by the public. And I would like to thank the public for all of their assistance throughout this investigation. There are also dozens of other officers and staff who have helped in the investigation, searchers and reassurance in the local community in St. Michaels. We've involved a range of specialists, both locally, regionally and nationally. The investigation has not wanted, at any stage, for experts who are the best in their field available to law enforcement in the UK.
I would emphasise that it remains the case - there is no evidence to indicate a criminal aspect or third party involvement in Nicola's disappearance. However, the officers involved in the investigation are the same experienced specialists and many senior officers who are concerned with the investigation of the most serious and complex crimes. That is the importance and focus we've given to the investigation to find Nicola.
To give you some figures to back up some of what I've described - we've visited more than 300 premises. Spoken to almost 300 people and received around about 1500 pieces of information into the enquiry.
In terms of the physical searches, both water based and on land, we've used specialist resources from both police, a range of other agencies and I'm grateful to those other agencies who've supported us and in police assets that's included - The Northwest Underwater Search Unit, police drones, horses, dogs and a police helicopter.
We continue to search extensively, the River Wyre and surrounding area downstream and out into the sea towards the estuary. We've consulted with national experts in their field, including environmental and tidal experts and have carried out an extensive land search surrounding the river, including some properties around the area where Nicola went missing. Slides have been made available for you to see which show in some detail exactly where we have searched, but it's important to say that our activity has, at every stage, been directed by expert trained police search advisers, who we term PoLSA's and they've been following a nationally recognised doctrine around search strategy, which will be followed by any expert police search advisor in UK policing. The Lead Police Search Advisor is here and at the conclusion of the press conference, if you have any specific questions on a one to one basis with that officer, he will be able to assist with those.
So it remains the case, at the present time, that there is no evidence in all the exhaustive enquiries we've made which suggests any crime has been committed, or, that there is any third party involvement in Nicola's disappearance. It is important for me to stress that the investigation continues. It is ongoing and we are meticulously reviewing all information gathered from member's of Nicola's family, the public, CCTV, dashcam and other digital devices, to name just a few. We are also continuing to regularly consult with national experts from the National Crime Agency (NCA) and they continue to support us and provide both tactical and strategic advice for the case. I will now hand over to Becky who will talk through, in some more detail, the investigation she's been leading from that Senior Investigating Officer role.
- Thank you for coming this morning. So, I'm going to firstly take you through the incident that led up to Nicola being reported missing. I'll go through a timeline of events for you, followed by a number of topic areas that I believe are of interest to you. Also, going on to a couple of areas that have been highlighted in the press, which I want to explain in detail.
So, first of all, Nicola Bulley was reported missing on Friday, 27th. January, after dropping her children at St. Michael's school in St. Michaels. As soon as she was reported missing, following the information that was provided to the police by her partner Paul and based on a number of specific vulnerabilities that we were made aware of, Nicola was graded as high risk. That is normal in a missing person investigation with the information we were in possession of. She was immediately treated as a MISPER and then on the Monday, 30th. January, I was identified as the Senior Investigating Officer.
At that time, we reviewed all the information that had been gathered in the days prior to her being reported and, as any Senior Investigating Officer does, you form a number of hypothesis. That is scenarios which are possible from the information to hand. Those hypothesis included the one that she possibly could have gone into the river, that there could have been third party involvement and lastly, that she could have left the area voluntarily. Those hypotheses have remained in place throughout, are reviewed regularly, as is normal with any SIO running a major investigation. At the initial stages, based on the information I received, I made it clear that it was my working hypothesis, at that time, based with all the facts, that the main hypothesis I was working on at the time was that Nicola had gone in the river. This has been misconstrued in the press and said that was what I said. I said that was my main working hypothesis, at that time, and that remains my main working hypothesis. I think it's clear to see that the amount of effort, hours worked, resources, that we've put into this investigation, that we have always been open minded. Those three hypotheses and scenarios have been continually reviewed and continue to do so to this day, but as Mr. Dawson has said, at the minute, with the information that we have received and reviewed, there is not a single piece of information or evidence to suggest that there is any third party involvement in this investigation and that continues and will continue to do so until we have reviewed all the information received.
So in terms of the actual timeline - Nicola Bulley dropped her children off at school at about 8:40 on Friday, 27th. January. That was normal and she then proceeded, after chatting to a couple of people in the school yard, walked up Garstang Rd. and onto the river path, over an iron bridge that takes you down to these fields. We know that, because there are witnesses who have identified her and also from her phone data.
We know that Nicola entered the field and made a couple of messages on her mobile phone - one to her boss and one to a friend making arrangements for a playdate for her children. And at 9:01, we know she logged into a work call on Teams. Again there's been lots of speculation about this. This was a perfectly normal call for Nicola to have. It was work related. She would never have had the microphone or camera on, because it was more of an informative session. She didn't need to sign into it, she did so to enable her with her business. So I know there have been enquiries as to whether anybody else on the Teams call would have been able to hear or provide us with any information. I can assure you from the outset that was investigated thoroughly and that is not the case.
We know, at this time, that there were a number of dog walkers in the area and we've been extremely fortunate, from the very start of this enquiry, to have a number of key witnesses who know Nicola. So there is no miscommunication about the identification of who was in that field and also we've viewed a substantial amount of CCTV. Again, whilst we can't cover the whole area with CCTV we've been really fortunate in that we've had a lot which has really been able to help us and pin down both Nicola's movements and also the movements of key witnesses, which is why we were able to give a timeline of events quite quickly, but reiterating, that we were remaining open minded to all three of those scenarios.
So, Nicola was last seen in the field, which we've called the upper field at about 9:10 that morning. At that time everything seemed normal, she was walking her dog Willow, who was off the lead, and again, a number of issues and inconsistencies have been raised in relation to Willow and her harness. It was really normal for Willow not to have her harness on. They never kept the harness on when they were in that field. The harness would be taken off Willow when they entered the field and would only be put back on when they were ready to leave the field. So, at approximately 9:10 a witness that knows her had the last sighting and that was at the upper field and when I say an approximate time, it is that, but we are basing that on, obviously, the times that we can say, that witness left the field. So I'm quite confident it is around that time.
We then know, from digital data, that at sometime around 9:20 we believe that Nicola's handset had moved towards the bench area. Again there have been questions raised about her phone, whether that would have been in her possession when whatever happened has happened, but again, I'd just like to point out that it's really normal for Nicola when in a Teams call, to be holding her phone out in front of her, listening to it and we can say, from a witness that knows her, that morning that is what she was doing. So that would explain why she doesn't have a phone in her pocket, as I know a number of people have raised.
We then know at about 9:33 a local dog walker who was walking her dog, comes across the bench and finds Willow, untied, running between the bench and the gate. The mobile phone is on the bench, face upwards, still logged into the Teams call and Willow's harness is halfway between the bench and the riverside. That witness makes a number.. she then returns home and makes a number of phone calls to people, because at that point she doesn't know who the dog belongs to or who the phone belongs to and doesn't know how to get in touch with people. She makes a number of enquiries with a local vet who can't assist her and following a number of enquiries, eventually people returned to the bench, recover the handset and Willow and we find out that, obviously, they belong to Nicola. The alarm is then raised with the local school, who then in turn contact Paul, Nicola's partner, who then makes to the scene.
Just moving on to CCTV, like I've said, we are really fortunate, in this enquiry, that we've been able to narrow down a lot of the witnesses in the areas movements and, to some extent, Nicola's, but we can't complete that totally. The area at the top of the field, Rowanwater, has CCTV that covers the gate that enters the field and the front of the site. That is working, the Site Managers have been cooperating with us and so supportive of this investigation at every stage, and we can say that Nicola has not entered that area or left. We can also say that nobody, that we haven't traced and spoken to and discounted, has left or entered Rowanwater. The second point on CCTV is Allotment Lane, again, we've been really really fortunate, despite it being such a rural area, that we've got numerous sights of CCTV on that road and that is why we can be confident that Nicola has not gone down that road. Unfortunately, the main entrance and exit to the fields is by the river path, as we refer to it, and that river path goes back to Garstang Rd. You can fork off slightly which takes you at the back of the Grapes Pub, which would bring you back onto the main road, but again, that is covered by CCTV and we know she hasn't left by that entrance.
So, talking about the river path - this has always been and, we've made this really clear in previous briefings and bulletins, that this has been our focus and to do this, because of the lack of CCTV on the main road, we've had to appeal, numerous times, for motorists and cyclists in the area to send us through any potential clips of dashcam. And our intention is to review every one of those, however small they might be, to make sure that on none of those Nicola is seen. At this stage, none of that dashcam has indicated that Nicola is there. However, I'd just like to point out we are still reviewing those pieces of information. What I can say, which we have established only yesterday, was that if Nicola had left out of the river path and turned right she has not reached the Grape Pub and we can say that because we have CCTV covering both sides of that pavement.
So, moving onto Nichola's phone - I've talked to you about the discrepancies that have been flagged up with the Teams call, whether she would have had that in front of her, whether she would have had that in her pocket, and we can say with confidence that Nicola, that morning, whilst logged into her Teams call had the phone out in front of her, listening to that call. We have, of course, like you would in any major enquiry, done an exhaustive amount of work with that phone. We have digital media experts doing everything we can with that and that has enabled us to help us with her movements in the field, corroborated by the witness accounts.
Moving onto Fitbit as I know this has been of interest. Unfortunately, despite many technicians and specialists looking at this, there is no further information that we can gain from that, because it hadn't been synced for a number of days. Just in relation to digital enquiries - there is further work that we are doing on Nicola's social media accounts this morning. The family are totally aware of this, but this work that we're doing might show Nicola as being online. We want to make this really clear - We have control of this phone. This will be the police that is doing these enquiries and that nobody needs to be concerned or to contact the incident room in relation to this.
Moving back to my original explanation of the scenarios that were under consideration - I've expressed before, the hypothesis' have been continually reviewed, based on the information that is known to the enquiry team and the enquiry team only. Whilst other people may speculate and spread rumours, there is no evidence, whatsoever, or information and there has been a vast amount reviewed, I can assure you, in the last, almost, three weeks to suggest any third party involvement or Nicola leaving that field. However, this is an ongoing enquiry, we've got a large dedicated team and, as you can imagine, vast amount of information, some relevant and some not, coming in on a daily basis. So, whilst my main working line of enquiry, at the moment, is that Nicola, based on the information known to me from the incident and of Nicola herself and the information and vulnerabilities that have been given to us by her family, that is my main working hypothesis, at this time. That does not mean that we aren't continuing to investigate every single line of enquiry, because I can assure you, we are and we, as much as everybody else in this country, wants to find out what's happened to Nicola to be able to give her two children the answers they deserve.
So, in terms of persistent myths that keep being referred to in the press:
The derelict house, which is across the other side of the river, that has been searched three times with the permission of the owner and Nicola is not in there.
The red van - We're really really grateful to members of the public for ringing into the enquiry. We wouldn't have got this far without everybody's help, but I think it's also really obvious that we are being inundated with false information, accusations and rumours, which is distracting us from our work. The red van has been reported that it was in the area on the morning of the 27th., like many other hundreds of cars that morning. We're really grateful for the witness who has told us about that and we are continuing to make enquiries to try and track down that specific van, but from my perspective, being in possession of all the facts and information of his case, I do not believe that to be suspicious, but we are continuing to investigate that, so that we can identify whoever was in the area at that time to make sure that they can't give us any further information that will assist the investigation.
There's also been mention of a number of fishermen that have been seen that morning, who again, were described as suspicious. I myself, don't find it suspicious that fishermen would be in the area of a river that morning or carrying fishing rods, but there was some suggestion that one of these males might have been looking to cover his face. We have made numerous appeals for these fishermen to come forward. We have made contact with the local angling clubs and we have also ascertained the time of the witness passing down that road and checked the CCTV at the Grapes Pub, which covers that end of Garstang Rd., and we can't see any of those fishermen, at that time, on that day, but we are continuing to try and trace these people. Again, I would urge that they are not necessarily suspicious, to me, but I'm really keen to trace them to make sure that there's no further information that they can give us that will assist.
In terms of the glove that has been recovered - you'll no doubt be aware that tik tokers have been playing their own private detectives and have been in the area. A glove has been recovered that is not believed to be relevant to the investigation. It is not Nicola's but we have got that in our possession.
Lastly, there has been some mention of CCTV, specifically at the caravan site, that hasn't been working and that that's suspicious itself. That is not the case. We have been helped and assisted, beyond all belief, by the caravan owners in this. The whole community wants to find Nicola and wants to give the family the answers that they deserve.
Lastly, the family, and they are the most important part of this, and all this speculation and rumour is affecting them. They've got a loving daughter, sister, partner and mother who is missing and that is my priority and the priority of the investigation team, and always has, and we can't be distracted from that. I have met the family on a number of occasions and will continue to do so and they are kept regularly updated throughout with our progress. There are dedicated Family Liaison Officers who speak daily to the family and, only yesterday, spent a significant amount of time with Paul. I can assure you, that this investigation has been thoroughly investigated, no differently than any other major investigation, from the outset, and that my absolute priority is to do everything we can to provide the answers to Nicola's two daughters who need to know where their Mummy is. And whilst we have shared information today about specific individual vulnerabilities specific to this case and Nicola, I would ask you to respect the family's privacy in respect of those things. Thank you.
- As I mentioned, we've shared more detail in this conference than would normally be the case but intend that by doing so, both, in terms of the scale of the investigation, the resources and intensity of it and something around Nicola's vulnerabilities we've been able to counter some of the... and I will be clear, ill informed speculation and conjecture that has, at times, distracted the investigation from what ought to have been its priorities. It has been a distraction. That is potentially damaging to the investigation, the community of St. Michaels and, most importantly, Nicola's family. However, we've had incredible support from the public and continue to have a dedicated investigation team working on this enquiry and we will continue to be as transparent as we possibly can be. You must appreciate though that when we do come forward, what we bring forward must be factual too. Anybody with relevant information can submit it through the major incident public portal (MIP), the link to which is available on the Lancashire Police website
. So, thank you and both Becky and I are happy to take some questions.
- Can you just give us a bit more information about what Nikki's partner told you about her vulnerabilities?, and, Why was it that you had to then identify her as high risk?, and also this is the 20th. day that Nicola Bulley has been missing - How confident are you and your team that you will find her alive?
- OK. So firstly to cover the information about Paul - it's normal in any missing person investigation that you obviously gather as much information at an early stage, about the person in question, which is no different and we did that with Paul. I'm not going to go into the details of those individual vulnerabilities. I've asked you to respect the family, who are going through unimaginable pain and distress at this moment, but those vulnerabilities based our decision making in terms of grading Nicola as high risk and have continued to form part of my investigation throughout. I hope with all my heart that we find Nicola Bulley alive, more than anything.
- How confident are you?
- I have told you that my working hypothesis is, at the moment, through all the information that we have gathered, that the likelihood is that Nicola has, unfortunately, gone in the river. However, I have to stress this, because this has been continually misconstrued - I cannot be 100% certain of that at the minute, because we are continuing.. its a live investigation and there is always information coming in, but we are in the 20th. day, we have had a thorough, dedicated, meticulous investigation and there is not one single piece of information that's come to note that would suggest Nicola has left those fields.
- Can we confirm whether Nicola was wearing a headset at the time she was..?
- No, she wasn't.
- You come to the end on the iron bridge and you turn left, so, right you're saying that's been covered off by CCTV?
- Are we saying to the left that is a blind spot?, and if so, How far down? There's no CCTV that has been recovered there I take it?
- Not on that main road. I can't give you the specifics of exactly how many sites but we're basically scoping off all the.... as you turn left, we're trawling all that area for any CCTV that we have got but the main road, that area there, isn't covered, unfortunately. So, from the iron bridge to the school, if you will, there is nothing there which is why it's so important for the dashcam, because even though they're going to be tiny bite sizes of information they're not going to be as good as being able to view CCTV. We need to be able to piece together as much of that portion of the road as we can.
- Of those 700 cars, how many have been spoken to or what percentage have been spoken to?
- I can't give you the exact figures on that because, obviously, there will have been more today that have come in, but a substantial amount.
- (asks if there are specific cars they're looking for
- No. They've all had individual letters to the cars that we know have gone past in the area, not that particular... but in the area and we've asked for positive responses only and any dashcam that's come back in, which there has been an amount of, we have reviewed. Some of it doesn't show anything, some is still being reviewed, but at the minute there is absolutely no sightings of Nicola on there.
- It's down on the record that you were appointed SIO on the Monday. Have Lancashire police missed a trick? Nicola Bulley went missing on Friday, an SIO not appointed until the Monday?
- I am satisfied that, as Becky has described, following the initial reports of Nicola being missing to Lancashire Police, immediately she was graded as high risk. That in itself is a significant level of risk that does bring with it focused attention and significant resources. So I'm satisfied that, given there was no evidence of any crime having occurred at that first point of the report, yes it was handled appropriately, but as the days began to progress as would be normal with any high risk missing person investigation, who hadn't been found by the Monday, we began to layer in the expertise of a Senior Investigating Officer with all the investigation infrastructure that comes with that.
- It took Peter Faulding and SGI 3 days to determine that Nikki wasn't in that stretch of river. How long will it take Lancashire Police? and, How long will you continue searching the River Wyre until you've come to the same determination?
- The search effort, both water based and land based continues this week. There are police assets, including underwater search officers, continuing that exercise this week. Water is an inherently challenging medium to search and the River Wyre is tidal and flows out into the estuary near Cockerham Sands and parts of the river have been searched repeatedly because of the shifting water patterns and tidal nature of it. We have taken the best expertise from people who are experts in their field around coastal movements, water and movement of water on inland waterways. I would say in all hope, but the reality is there will be a point at which I will need to review, in conjunction with, Becky and the search managers. The extensive proportionality of continuing to deploy significant search resources around the River Wyre and on the land based options we have there. So, for this week the search effort is continuing. There will be a point in the days ahead where I do need to review that.
- Social media video makers and wannabe detectives - have they been an annoyance or a hindrance in the enquiry?
- Yes. It has significantly distracted the investigation. In 29 years police service I've never seen anything like it. Some of it's been quite shocking and really hurtful to the family. Obviously, we can't disregard anything and we have reviewed everything that's come in, but of course, it has distracted us significantly, but as long as we are prioritising, which we do constantly, on the information that's coming in that will not distract us from the priority actions that we have been completing.
- Obviously, you're taking about the evidence that you're working with and, obviously, you made an hypothesis - Should you have cordoned off the bench and got forensics in so that you could be more certain that you can rule out things like foul play and be absolutely certain rather than just saying it's a main hypothesis?
- Yeah, I understand why you would ask that, but at the end of the day it was treated as a high risk missing from home, immediately, and the office that dealt with it in those days had the land searched immediately, which included the area around the bench.
- Is it not significant that Willow was running between the bench and the gate, not the bench and the waters edge? I'm not expecting to be an expert on dog behaviour but what do you make of that? Have you consulted on that?
- We have consulted people, we're ongoing with consulting people but obviously, I can't speak to the dog and all we can say is that he was running backward and forwards and he was still in the area where Nicola's possessions were and that's all I can say.
- But, was more interested in the gate and path leading away from there than the actual water?
- At that time, when the witness found Willow, was between the bench and the gate. However, I have to point out, the dog could have got out from there.
- Has the Police and Crime Commissioner had a meeting to voice any of his concerns surrounding this?
- The Police and Crime Commissioner has been kept apprised but the constabulary has operational independence and has been carrying out the investigation and information stays with the investigation. That's the nature of policing.
- You've outlined what you've done so far which is great and really helpful, but are you able to talk us through sort of what your plan might be? Where the investigation will be going in the coming week or so? and also, What impact is this having on Lancashire Police resources and when do you think you may look at scaling it down? and just one final point, I know you said you weren't going to elaborate on the vulnerabilities but I've had 3 text messages in the past 5 minutes asking what they are and what that's about. So, if you want to dial down on the speculation might it make sense to make that clearer?
- In terms of the scale of the investigation - It is continuing, that will be kept under review, but it is as much of a peak of resourcing and intensity as it has been. Both the search and the investigation side will remain under review, but we are a significant sized force, where necessary, we've drawn officers and expertise in from across the force. Our business as usual, police in communities of Lancashire has remained unaffected by this. We've sought support nationally and we can draw on mutual aid from other police forces and regions if we need to. We will keep it under review. Becky is an experienced Senior Investigating Officer and will continue to follow the evidence, the facts, objectively, as any SIO would do.
In terms of the vulnerabilities - I feel we've said as much as we can about that. It is personal, private information, known to the investigation, but foremost in our thoughts, in addition to the integrity of the investigation, is the privacy of Nicola's family. So, we've said as much as we can with that.
I thank you for your attention today.