Underwater search expert Peter Faulding has ended his three-day involvement in the search for missing mum Nicola Bulley.
At the end of the search, Peter concluded that the case is a ‘complete mystery’ and says, of all the cases he has worked on, that this one will ‘stick with him’. His company, Specialist Group International (SGI), specialises in underwater search and was called in by the family of Nicola after she had been missing for over a week.
The mortgage adviser, 45, vanished on January 27 after dropping her two daughters – aged six and nine – at school, then taking her springer spaniel Willow for a walk along the river. Nicola’s phone was left on the bench near the river, still connected to a work call, with the dog lead and harness found close by.
READ MORE: Nicola Bulley friend identifies critical ‘blind spot’ in desperate hunt for evidence
Mr Faulding and his team, from rescue operation Specialist Group International (SGI), have been searching the area around the bench, the “entry point” where it is believed by police Nicola fell into the water. But who is Peter Faulding, what qualifications does he have and what cases has he worked on before? Here is all you need to know:
Who is Peter Faulding?
Peter Faulding is a world-leading confined space rescue and forensic search specialist. He is the founder of Specialist Group International which began in 1995 but served six years in the elite Parachute Regiment special forces unit before that, specialising in protest removal techniques in the process.
The company specialises in specialist rescue, working in confined spaces and at height, underwater search, forensic search and protester removal. The agency is equipped with an arsenal of the latest technology and equipment, and a team of experienced and highly skilled professionals, according to its website.
Away from work, Peter and his family live on a farm in West Sussex with their many animals they keep as pets. He also presents extensively on missing person cases and appears regularly on TV, radio and podcasts.
What are Peter Faulding’s qualifications?
At the age of five, Peter began exploring disused mines and caves with his father John. This hobby meant that Peter became highly skilled in tunnelling and shoring techniques.
In the early 1990’s, Peter used his skills to train the London Fire Brigade specialist rescue teams and the United Kingdom’s Search & Rescue Teams (UKSART) in collapsed structure shoring and specialist rescue techniques. Later, he went through the tough selection course for the elite Parachute Regiment and earned the coveted Maroon Beret and qualified as a military parachutist and served for six years.
He became involved in protestor removal in 1996 after he was tasked by the authorities to search and safely remove environmental protesters from manmade tunnels under the proposed route of the Newbury Bypass. Since then, Peter and company Specialist Group International have safely carried out all the major protester removal operations both on land and at sea.
In 1998, he went to the United States to research the use of side scan sonar and ground penetrating radar for locating missing persons and human remains. Peter pioneered the use of side scan sonar for forensic search for missing persons underwater.
Since then, the dad-of-three has been brought in to assist in the search for many cold cases and has located human remains and evidence that have gone undetected for years, in some of the most remote locations on land and underwater. Peter is a registered expert with the National Crime Agency – Specialist Operations Centre. He is also a qualified commercial diver, helicopter & fixed-wing pilot and holds both UK and United States FAA pilot’s licences.
What cases has he worked in previously?
Peter has worked on many high profile missing person and ‘no body’ murder investigations over the years. Cases he has worked on include:
MI6 ‘body in a bag’ mystery death
The body of MI6 Officer Gareth Williams was found naked inside a padlocked bag, which had been placed inside the bathtub, in 2010. The keys to the padlock were found inside the bag under his body.
In 2012, Peter helped investigate the circumstances surrounding Mr Williams’ death. He carried out tests to prove that it would have not have been possible for Mr Williams to lock himself in the bag without leaving a trace of DNA on the bath, bag, zip or padlock. Peter also suggested it would be possible for someone to place a non-rigor mortis body into a bag and carry it without help.
Tests also showed that Mr Williams would have suffocated in less than 30 minutes if he had been placed in the bag alive. After evaluating the case, Peter said that it was unlikely he had been placed inside the bag alive as there were no signs of a struggle.
He also pointed out that the shower screen was closed and the bathroom door shut to mask the smell of decomposition. The heating inside the property was turned up full in August to speed up decomposition, and the bag was placed in the bath to allow decomposition fluids to run down the plug hole.
To this day, it remains unclear how Mr Williams died and whether there had been any third-party involvement. Coroner Dr Fiona Wilcox ruled that he had probably been killed unlawfully, however a Metropolitan Police re-investigation concluded that his death was “probably an accident”.
Serial killer Peter Tobin
Peter and his company, Specialist Group International, assisted police to search serial killer Peter Tobin’s former home in Scotland, in 2007. They were trying to find the remains of missing schoolgirl Vicky Hamilton.
The 15-year-old schoolgirl had disappeared in 1991. Searches of the loft found a dagger concealed in the rafters which contained the DNA of Vicky. This linked Tobin to her murder.
The search at Tobin’s house lasted over a week and Vicky’s remains were found buried in the garden of a different house Tobin had moved into shortly after her disappearance. Tobin died in October 2022, still serving his whole life order.
Schoolgirl April Jones
Peter worked on the search for five-year-old April Jones, who was abducted and killed in 2012. A vast search began after April’s abduction.
Hundreds of volunteers participated in the search along with various police and rescue teams, but April’s body was never located. Mark Bridger, a 46-year-old local man, was arrested and eventually convicted of her murder. Although her body was never found, 17 fragments of bone were recovered from the fireplace in Bridge’s cottage.
What did he do in Nicola Bulley search?
Specialist Group International began aiding the search for Nicola Bulley in the waterways of St Michael’s on Wyre on (February 6). The team has offered its services “free of charge” as the “world’s best” sonar equipment that can scan the river “in a day” is set to be deployed near to where she was last sighted.
The team spent the first day working with Lancashire Police to hunted through “three or four miles” of the river until darkness fell. They were unable to find any trace of Nicola.
On February 7, the team returned and began searching through another stretch of river on Tuesday “towards where Nicola originally went missing”. They focused their search on the part of the water where Ms Bulley’s mobile phone was found on a bench. Again, they were unable to find any trace of her.
He has said that if the team cannot find her in the river, that her mobile phone found on a bench near the river could have been left as a “decoy” and there may be third part involvement. This has not been confirmed by Lancashire Police. Peter has also made the claim that it would be ‘impossible’ for Nicola’s body to get out to the sea if she had drowned.
What did he say about Nicola Bulley case?
Specialist Group International’s three-day involvement in the search for Nicola ended on Wednesday (February 8) after a “thorough and extensive search of the areas we were tasked with by Lancashire Police” found “no sign of Nicola”. On what he thinks happened to her, he said: “It’s a total mystery for me, I really don’t know.
“In all the searches I’ve done, this is one which will stick with me. Normally we get tasked with, you know, searching for a knife or a body and there’s been a witness to a drowning or we’ve got really good intelligence.
“The sort of information we’ve got here is a mobile phone on a bench but we don’t know anything else. I’m glad really that we haven’t found Nicola because I didn’t want to recover another dead body.
It just opens it up, is she alive, is she dead? Did she go in the river or didn’t she? And I can’t say one way or another. I’m baffled by it and I think most people are.”
On how Nicola’s family are coping, he added: “It was quite emotional, I mean, brings a tear to my eye to be honest with you, sitting with Paul for a couple of hours, hearing about Nicola and particularly the children, their ‘Where’s mummy?’. That’s not nice and they’re clearly in distress and they’ve got no answers and nobody can give them any answers.
“It’s difficult, we’re all banging our heads together really. Our involvement is we’ve searched it extremely thoroughly and we’ve ruled out, especially, the area where Nicola supposedly went in all the way down to the first weir and then onward down the river quite a distance.
“And then that’s my area cleared then, and we went upstream as well for about a mile upstream just in case, so it’s been extremely thorough. My team have worked long hours on this to get this done and we have done it free of charge to help this family.”
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