The police investigation into Nicola Bulley’s disappearance has been married by three crucial errors, according to a top murder detective.
The mother-of-two vanished on January 27 while walking her dog in St Michael’s on Wyre, prompting a wide scale search from the police.
Bulley had been walking near the River Wyre, shortly dropping her daughters, aged six and nine, at school.
A top detective has added to the dissenting voices with regards to the police operation, criticising the fact that the area had not been cordoned off, as the location has turned into a “tasteless tourist spot”.
Ex-Detective Chief Inspector of the Met Police, Simon Harding, told The Sunday Times: “You would expect the area where Nicola was last seen to be cordoned off too, to stop people descending on it as a tasteless tourist spot and trampling the area, losing any potential evidence.
The police have discounted foul play on the matter of Nicola Bulley's disappearance Peter Byrne
“But there does not appear to be any cordon because Nicola’s disappearance is said to be non-suspicious.”
The police are continuing to work on a hypothesis that the 45-year-old fell into a nearby river, something her partner has cast doubt over, telling Channel 5 his “gut instinct” is that this is not the case.
Harding feels the police have become “doggedly stuck” with their original theory, and have failed to consider other possibilities enough.
“I would have demanded evidence and facts that made me totally sure this [drowning theory] was the case before telling the public there had been ‘no third party involvement’,” he said.
The search for Nicola Bulley has entered a 17th day Peter Powell
The detective added the assertive nature of the police communication could send an “incredibly damaging message”.
He said: “If every possible route in and out of that area is not covered by CCTV - as is likely in the countryside - you simply cannot be sure that someone else is not involved.
“If you are 100 per cent sure no one entered or left the scene within the crucial time frame, of course you would suggest - as one hypothesis - that Nicola might have fallen into the river.
“If you are not sure, however, it can be an incredibly damaging message.
“You are inadvertently saying to the public: ‘Don’t call us as we don’t want to know about suspicious people, vehicles or events’.”
The search for Nicola has entered a 17th day, and the police have already discounted foul play, saying the incident is being treated as a missing person inquiry.
Despite the police saying they are keeping an “open mind” on the matter, Harding has criticised the force’s communication with the public throughout the case, saying they are “letting speculation continue”.
Simon Harding has called on the senior investigating officer to provide a clear update on the search Peter Powell
He said: “If they are in possession of new facts, I would consider whether it might be time to inform the public rather than let speculation continue.
"There is nothing to lose - you only really hold information back when it is suspicious and points to potential culprits.
“But I do not believe they have that, or else Nicola’s family, friends and community would not be so proactive in giving interviews saying they are sure she is not in the river.
“The person I want to hear from now is the senior investigating officer (SIO).
“They are the lead detective, with 40 officers, and should be the fact of the inquiry.
“I am not criticising the superintendent who has been speaking to the media but let’s hear from the SIO about why they think this is an accident.”