Nicola Bulley search experts predicted the exact weekend the missing mum’s body would be found, a new report shows.
The body of Ms Bulley, 45, a mother-of-two, was found in the River Wyre on February 19, about a mile from where she vanished while walking her dog in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, on January 27.
An inquest concluded her death was accidental, that she fell into the river on the day she disappeared and died almost immediately in the cold water.
The College of Policing published the results of an inquiry on Tuesday (November 21) which said a number of search and rescue professionals were invited to help during the later stage of the investigation.
An expert from the Association of Lowland Search and Rescue told the police the dates when a body would most likely float to the surface of the river.
They suggested the “earliest” date Ms Bulley’s body would rise to the surface would be February 14, although the most likely date would be February 20.
The report said: “From the tidal information and the predictions by experts, it was anticipated that the weekend of 18-19 February might become significant in the search to find Nicola.
“Resources and tactics were planned for a large-scale search on the afternoon of 19 February, as the tide ebbed.
“Sunday 19 February was also the first high tide since Nicola’s disappearance, with 20 cubic metres of water per second moving over the weir.
“This predicted tidal movement would likely contribute to a floating body on the surface, moving with the tide.”
Ms Bulley’s body was discovered on February 19 a mile downstream from where she was last seen by a man who was walking along the riverbank.
Officers from Lancashire Police descended on the area and cordoned off a large section of road to protect the scene.
The College of Policing report noted one man was able to get past the cordon and was arrested after trying to post footage from the scene to his YouTube channel.
It said the challenges of searching in water prevented Ms Bulley from being found and recovered quickly.
The report added Ms Bulley had been caught by underwater branches of a tree while being transported back out by an ebbing tide.
The 143-page report, which concludes with 17 recommendations, criticises senior officers at Lancashire Police; details “insufficient focus” and errors of judgment; and questions the culture of the force, with claims chief officers “observed but did not act” and failed to show sufficient support to lower ranks.
A huge level of interest coupled with wild speculation on social media put the force under intense pressure during the investigation into Ms Bulley’s disappearance.
The frenzy of speculation saw 6,500 international articles written about the hunt in the space of one day, and TikTok videos with the hashtag of her name had 270 million views.
Deputy Chief Constable Sacha Hatchett from Lancashire Police said: “That media demand was at times overwhelming, and with the benefit of hindsight, there are undoubtedly things we would do differently in the future. Indeed, we have already started to do so.
“There is no doubt that the impact of social media, as experienced in this case, is an area of concern for policing generally which requires more focus in the future. It had a detrimental effect on the family, the investigation, and our staff along with influencing wider media reporting.”
Ms Bulley’s family has said they continue to grieve her loss and do not want to comment on the report.