Police have been granted extra powers to remove social media influencers from the scene where Nicola Bulley went missing in Lancashire.
A dispersal order was put in place on Wednesday night meaning anyone taking photos and video for social media following the 45-year-old’s disappearance 13 days ago, can be sent away.
Lancashire police said they issued two dispersal notices and warned a number of other people about their behaviour.
Bulley, a 45-year-old mother of two who works as a mortgage adviser, was last seen in St Michael’s on Wyre, not far from her home in Inskip, Lancashire, on the morning of 27 January.
She vanished within a 10-minute window while walking her dog, Willow, along the River Wyre, leaving her phone, which was still connected to a work call, on a bench.
Police remain “fully open-minded” to the fate of Bulley, who has a partner and two daughters aged six and nine, but their “working hypothesis” is that she fell into the Wyre. They have deployed teams of underwater divers to search the river in the days since she went missing.
On Thursday, police were still at the scene of her disappearance but were also concentrating efforts further downriver.
Lancashire constabulary said: “People may have seen less police activity today than previously in the area of the river above the weir but that is not because we have stepped down our searches, it is because the focus of the search has moved further downstream into the area of the river which becomes tidal and then out towards the sea.”
The 15km (9-mile) stretch of the Wyre that police are searching extends from where Bulley was last seen to the estuary in Fleetwood, on the north-west coast, adjacent to Morecambe Bay.
Police have repeatedly returned to areas of the river they have previously searched because of tides, making the search “particularly complex”, lead investigator Supt Sally Riley said.
In a press conference earlier in the week, she advised members of the public not to take any meaning from these extra searches and urged people “not to take the law into their own hands” or “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.”
The bench where Bulley’s phone was found in particular, has become a hotspot for members of the public interested in the mystery of her disappearance.
In a statement, Lancashire police said they hoped the dispersal order, which is in place for 48 hours, will offer some “reassurance that we will not tolerate criminality, including trespass and criminal damage”.
They added: “We are also aware of a number of grossly offensive comments being made on social media and elsewhere. We are looking into these and will not hesitate to take action where appropriate.”
While the absence of a body or any further developments about Bulley’s disappearance has led rise to speculation from members of the public, it is not uncommon for the bodies of people who have fallen in a river to be found many weeks later. On Tuesday, North Yorkshire police identified a body found in the River Ure on 29 January as missing walker Gavin Dhont, who was last seen on 6 December.