Nicola Bulley remains missing as troubles laid bare by bungling police

A mother of two remains missing after her personal troubles were laid bare to the world by a bungling force. This might not be such a circus if Lancashire Police didn’t demonise the media, argues STEPHEN WRIGHT

One summer day more than 20 years ago, I sat in my car in the town of Soham shaking my head in disbelief at how a hunt for two missing schoolgirls had descended into farce.

A litany of blunders was in danger of leaving Cambridgeshire Police a laughing stock as officers tried to establish the fate of ten-year-olds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, which had attracted worldwide attention.

Here was a small force completely out of its depth, overwhelmed by intense public and media interest in a baffling case. I was there reporting for the Daily Mail, but I felt I also had a duty to help the police, so I made an unusual intervention.

From my car, I rang the head of Scotland Yard, Sir John (now Lord) Stevens, a former chief officer in Cambridgeshire Police, and said: ‘Your old force needs outside help.’ Stevens, who had a healthy respect for the media, listened intently.

By the next day he raised concerns about the Soham investigation with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, and Cambridgeshire Police received significant additional support and resources. Ian Huntley was subsequently convicted of the girls’ murder in 2002.

Nicola Bulley, 45, who went missing last Friday while walking her dog in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire pictured with partner Paul Ansell

Lancashire Police have referred themselves to the police watchdog over contact the force had with missing mother Nicola Bulley prior to her disappearance. Pictured: Assistant Chief Constable Peter Lawson (left) and Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith of Lancashire Police during a press conference on Wednesday

This week, memories of that tragic case – back in an era when the police and Press had a strong, professional relationship – returned as I have observed how the hunt for Nicola Bulley has turned into a disturbing spectacle.

Yes, armchair detectives, publicity-seeking ex cops, rent-a-quotes and the odd would-be Sherlock Holmes are jostling to fill the information vacuum as efforts to find Ms Bulley intensify. But Lancashire Police is also facing criticism over its handling of the case – and in particular its media strategy and dealings with the Press.

READ MORE: Lancs Police refers itself to watchdog over contact with Nicola Bulley before she vanished


Until its statement on Wednesday evening, when it revealed Ms Bulley had been struggling with alcohol problems related to the menopause, the media had no inkling of her troubled background. And why should it, you might ask?

Well if media outlets had been told, in the strictest confidence, of this important context to her case then it might not have turned into the circus that it arguably has.

Back in my crime reporting days it was routine for journalists to be told sensitive background details of a case – again in confidence – to help inform our reporting.

But following the Leveson Inquiry (triggered by the News of the World phone-hacking scandal), trust on both sides has been eroded. Journalists are often treated as potential criminals and pariahs, while informal – and mutually beneficial – contact between the Press and serving officers is effectively banned.

Today the police won’t tell us even the most basic information to ensure our reports are right and the context correct.

At the same time, policing as a whole has been infected with the same feeble-minded wokery as the rest of the public sector. This serves only to distract from the job in hand and leads to unsound decision-making, something which has arguably been a problem this week.

Let us be clear. There is no evidence that Ms Bulley has been the victim of foul play. But stung by increasing criticism of its investigation, which will soon enter its fourth week, Lancashire Police gave a press conference on Wednesday morning that spoke of Ms Bulley’s ‘specific vulnerabilities’ that made her a ‘high-risk’ missing person.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said they were assessing the information to determine whether an investigation would be necessary over the contact officers had with the missing mother-of-two on January 10. Pictured: Officers in St Michael’s on Wyre on Thursday

Ms Bulley’s parents and sister spoke at an appeal a number of weeks ago to try and find her

The force then went further – and in my view over-stepped the mark – by later revealing those deeply personal details about Ms Bulley.

I understand why Lancashire Police wanted to end the wild speculation but I would argue they created that void by alienating the Press in the first place.

And in cack-handedly trying to fix that on Wednesday, the force has only made things worse, while the statement from Ms Bulley’s family yesterday – in which they acknowledge she would not have wanted her personal details made public – has confused things still further.

Today, a mother of two remains missing after her private troubles were laid bare to the world by a bungling force which is rightly facing condemnation. Meanwhile, public trust in the police sinks even lower.

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