Police searching for Nicola Bulley have found a “key” witness who they believe was in the area on the morning of the mother-of-two’s disappearance.
The witness is a woman who was seen pushing a pram on Friday 27 January, when Ms Bulley went missing.
The woman was spotted on CCTV walking in the Lancashire village of St Michael’s on Wyre at around 8.22am.
She was again seen walking just under 20 minutes later at 8.41am.
Officers believe Ms Bulley, 45, fell into the River Wyre while she was walking her dog.
However her family and friends have claimed there is “no evidence whatsoever” behind the police’s theory.
In a statement, Lancashire Police said: “Earlier this evening as part of our search for Nicola Bulley, we put out an appeal to find a witness in St Michael’s on Wyre.
“We are pleased to say that the woman came forward very quickly and we must stress that she was very much being treated as a witness and was one of many people in St Michael’s on Friday, January 27th.”
The force added: “Our enquiries to find Nicola are extensive and will include speaking to as many members of the public as possible.
“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.”
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Crucial 10-minute window
Ms Bulley was last seen walking her dog on a footpath by the River Wyre.
Police are focusing their investigation on a crucial 10-minute window when the mortgage advisor’s movements are unaccounted for between 9.10am and 9.20am.
A timeline pieced together by the force found she logged into a work conference call on Microsoft Teams at 9.01am.
Nine minutes later a witness who knows Ms Bulley said they saw her on the upper field walking her dog, Willow, which was off her lead.
This is the last confirmed sighting of her.
At 9.20am, police believe her phone was left on a bench by the river.
At 9.30am, the work conference call ended but she stayed connected – before her phone was found three minutes later on the bench by another dog walker.
‘Too soon for condolences’
Friends and family told Sky News correspondent Katerina Vittozzi it was “too soon for condolences”, and say they are not ready to accept the police’s theory that Ms Bulley fell into the river.
They have now set up a community search hub at the village tennis club where people are invited to take a map of the local area and try and help.
Specialists and divers from HM Coastguard, mountain rescue and Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service have been deployed to assist the search, in addition to sniffer dogs, drones and police helicopters.
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Signs and placards displayed in the streets to find missing mum-of-two
‘It’s a very, very odd one’
Forensics search and rescue expert Peter Faulding told Sky News he has been left “mystified” by the “strange” circumstances of Ms Bulley’s disappearance.
Mr Faulding, who has worked on hundreds of cases, said the tidal nature of the River Wye has presented difficulties for police during the search operation.
But he added: “I mean, the phone being found, a bench; normally, if someone would trip, they would have their phone in their hand.
“You know, the dog being dry; going after dogs, this is why a lot of people drown. They jump after their dogs.
“But the dog was found dry, so it clearly didn’t go in the river, and that’s what gets my suspicion about this case is it’s a very, very odd one.”