Police searching for Nicola Bulley have condemned elements of social media speculation and family friends have hit out at “vile” theories being posted online.
The search for the mother-of-two entered its second week with police continuing to pursue the theory that Bulley fell into the river while walking her dog in the Lancashire village of St Michael’s on the Wyre.
Lancashire police said its inquiries into the case were extensive and that included “speaking to as many members of the public as possible.”
In a statement the force added: “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.”
Police believe the most likely reason for Bulley’s disappearance is that she fell in the Wyre.
Bulley’s sister Louise Cunningham has insisted there is no evidence for that and it was just a theory. She said: “Everyone needs to keep an open mind as not all CCTV and leads have been investigated fully, the police confirmed the case is far from over.”
Police have said they have not discovered anything which points to third-party or criminal involvement. But that has not stopped frenzied online speculation.
A friend of Bulley called Tilly Ann posted on Facebook 11 things she believes people “may not know” to counter “inappropriate” posts.
“Family and friends need these accusations to stop immediately,” she said. “The fact I’ve had to write this is disgusting to be honest.”
The friend added: “What her family need right now is as much positivity as possible please.”
Her sentiments were echoed by another family friend, Heather Gibbons, who said some of the theories were “vile” and incredibly hurtful to the family.
“The speculation is massive. It’s human nature,” she told the BBC. “Everyone’s going to have their thoughts, their theories. Everyone will be speculating. But to see some of the vile speculating 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 able to access and see all of that.”
Gibbons said Bulley’s two daughters, nine and six, would be able as they got older to look back on everything that was said.
She said the main focus of Paul Ansell, Bulley’s partner, was the couple’s daughters. “There is nothing more important to him right now.
“I don’t think people realise how nerve-wracking it is having cameras pointed at you and knowing that what you say is going to go across national television news stations.
Lancashire police believe Bulley, a 45-year-old mortgage adviser, went missing in “a 10-minute window” while she was walking her springer spaniel, Willow, on the morning of Friday 27 January.
Bulley had logged in to a Microsoft Teams call at 9.01am, which ended at 9.30am with her phone still connected to the call.
She was seen by another dog walker at 9.10am – the last known sighting – and police traced telephony records of her mobile phone as it remained on a bench overlooking the river at 9.20am.
The device was found by a dog walker at about 9.35am, with Willow nearby.
Police search teams, helped by specialists and divers from the fire service, coastguard and mountain rescue, have continued to search the river and nearby area.
Ansell has described the ordeal as “perpetual hell”. Speaking from the family home in Inskip he said: “We are living through this but it doesn’t feel real. All we can say is we need to find her. She’s got two little girls that need their mummy home.”
In their most recent update, police again asked drivers in the area at the time for dashcam footage.
“Whilst you may not think that you hold any relevant information, it is really important that we gather as much footage as possible in the area that morning so we can review every piece meticulously to establish whether Nicola can be seen.”
Candles were lit in Bulley’s name at the Sunday church service of St Michael’s on Wyre parish church, very close to the primary school where Bulley dropped off her two daughters.
The Rev Andrew Wilkinson said the community was keen to help as much as possible. “They are still looking for and hoping for good news,” he told Sky News. “We are all in shock … hope is what is keeping everyone going.”