Police searching for Nicola Bulley have said they want to trace a “key witness” who was seen pushing a pram in the area near where the dog walker went missing.
CCTV images have been released of a woman, dressed in a yellow coat and pushing a pram, who was in St Michael’s on Wyre on the morning of 27 January, when the 45-year-old mortgage adviser was last seen.
The woman was seen walking along Garstang Road/Blackpool Lane in the village of St Michael’s, from the direction of Allotment Lane towards the Grapes pub, at about 8.22am.
She is again seen walking on Allotment Lane towards Garstang Road just under 20 minutes later.
A Lancashire police spokesperson said: “It is believed that the female in question may have walked along the river path during these times and so detectives want to speak to her and urge her to get in touch.”
Search teams from Lancashire constabulary are continuing to trawl the River Wyre, working on the hypothesis that the missing mother of two, from nearby Inskip, could have fallen in when she disappeared.
However, Bulley’s sister has urged people to keep an open mind about her disappearance as the search enters its ninth day.
Louise Cunningham asked people to “keep sharing my Nikki” and said there was “no evidence whatsoever” behind a police update that she had fallen into the River Wyre.
She wrote on Facebook: “Off the back of the latest police media update, please can I add there is no evidence whatsoever that she has gone into the river, it’s just a theory.
“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.”
Bulley’s friend Emma White also cast doubt on the police’s theory. “When we are talking about a life, we can’t base it on a hypothesis – surely, we need this factual evidence,” she told Sky News.
“That’s what the family and us are all holding on to, that we are actually no further on than, sadly, last Friday. We still have no evidence, and that’s why we’re out again in force.
“You don’t base life on a hypothesis.”
Supt Sally Riley from Lancashire constabulary said the investigators’ main hypothesis was that Bulley had accidentally fallen into the river while walking her dog.
Divers from HM Coastguard, mountain rescue and Lancashire fire and rescue service had all joined the search, and sniffer dogs, drones and police helicopters were also deployed.
At a press conference on Friday, Riley said: “Our main working hypothesis is that Nicola has sadly fallen into the river – there is no third-party or criminal involvement and this is not suspicious but the tragic case of a missing person.
“This is particularly important because speculation otherwise can be really distressing for the family and for Nicola’s children.”
Detectives are also working behind the scenes to analyse CCTV and dashcam videos, while members of the public with footage that could be useful have been urged to come forward.
Police believe Bulley went missing in “a 10-minute window” while she was walking her dog, Willow, close to the river after dropping off her daughters – aged six and nine – at school.
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 records of her mobile phone as it remained on a bench overlooking the river at 9.20am. It was found by a dog walker at about 9.35am, with Willow nearby.
“Based on all the work we have done so far, we are now as confident as we can be that Nicola has not left the field where she was last seen and our working hypothesis is that she has fallen into the river for some reason,” officers said.
They said she was wearing an ankle-length black, quilted gilet and a black Vector coat underneath, which had long sleeves and came to her waist. Officers added that she was wearing tight black jeans with long green walking socks.
She was also wearing ankle-length green wellington boots from Next, a necklace and pale blue Fitbit. Her hair was tied in a ponytail.
Her partner, Paul Ansell, 44, told broadcasters: “I don’t really have anything to say other than what the family said yesterday. My whole focus is the two girls.
“Stay strong for them. I’m scared that if I put any focus on to anything else, it’s going to take my focus off that.”
Police earlier released a detailed timeline of Bulley’s last movements, as follows:
8.43am: She walked along the path by the River Wyre, having dropped her children off at school.
8:50am (approximately): A dog walker – somebody who knows Bulley – saw her walking around the lower field with her dog. Their two dogs interacted briefly before the witness left the field via the river path.
8.53am: She sent an email to her boss.
9.01am: She logged into a Teams call.
9.10am (approximately): A witness – somebody who knows Bulley – saw her on the upper field walking her dog, Willow. Work is ongoing to establish exactly what time this was.
9.30am: The Teams call ended but Bulley stayed logged in.
9.35am (approximately): Her mobile phone and Willow were found at a bench by the river by another dog walker.
Anyone with information or footage has been asked to call 101, quoting log 565 of 30 January.