Police have urged the public not to “take the law into their own hands” in the search for Nicola Bulley who went missing 12 days ago while walking her dog.
Lancashire constabulary told amateur detectives not to abuse witnesses or attempt to break into empty or derelict buildings along the River Wyre near where she disappeared.
Though people “may mean well, they may want to help”, police are “taking a strong line” on criminal damage and harassment, lead investigator Supt Sally Riley said in a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
Bulley was last seen in St Michael’s on Wyre, not far from her home in Inskip, Lancashire, on the morning of 27 January.
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Lancashire constabulary say they remain “fully open-minded” over the fate of the 45-year-old but their “working hypothesis” is that she fell into the river while taking her dog, Willow, for a walk.
Extensive searches are still taking place along a 15km stretch of the River Wyre, a tidal river which ends at the sea in Morecambe Bay.
Riley said the search was “particularly complex” due to the tides and, because of this, they are being forced to scour areas of the river that have been previously searched.
She advised members of the public not to take any meaning from these extra searches and urged people “not to do anything that would thwart” the investigation.
The nature of Bulley’s disappearance has led to wild speculation on social media, which has caused distress to the family and has been a distraction for the police inquiry, Riley said.
She added: “Nor is it helpful if people, particularly if they come from outside the area, take it upon themselves to take the law into their own hands by trying to, for example, break into empty property.”
Though police are treating the case as a missing person, she said they were “not closed in any way to any particular line of inquiry” and were working with partners including the National Crime Agency and the national police search adviser to ensure no leads are missed.
On Monday, Paul Ansell, the partner of Bulley, who has two daughters aged six and nine, released a statement saying: “This has been such a tough time for the girls especially but also for me and all of Nicola’s family and friends, as well as the wider community and I want to thank them for their love and support.”
He added: “If anyone has any information which could help find Nicola, I urge them to get in touch with the police and help us provide the answers we all so badly need.”