Criticism of Nicola Bulley police investigation unfair, ex-chief says | Police

A former police chief has said criticism of the police investigation into Nicola Bulley is unfair.

Deputies hit out at Lancashire Police after it revealed the missing mother was struggling with menopause and alcohol before she disappeared on January 27.

Last week, the Prime Minister and Home Secretary intervened over the decision and investigations by the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) and the Information Commissioner were announced, as well as an internal review by the force itself.

But Peter Fahy, former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, said the criticism was overblown and the public interest frenzy meant officers were like “highly skilled surgeons” asked to “operate with a huge public gallery”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Lancashire Police have been very diligent in identifying many witnesses, eyewitnesses, mobile phone data, huge use of CCTV. That alone has shut down many possible theories as to what has happened to this poor woman.

“It’s disappointing that some politicians haven’t perhaps tried to take a more balanced view and say, yes, there is a definite issue around the release of personal information and that often happens in major investigations.”

He added that there is “a huge feeling in policing that the way Lancashire Police has been focused has reached the stage of being unfair”.

The prime minister, Rishi Sunak, said he was “concerned that personal information has been made public” about the missing woman.

It came after Home Secretary Suella Braverman demanded an “explanation” from the police over the decision to release the private information. Several MPs joined the criticism of the police.

Bulley, a mortgage adviser, disappeared after dropping her two daughters off at school at St Michael’s in Wyre, Lancashire.

Since she disappeared, huge public and media interest has resulted in what police described as “false information, accusations and rumours” and an “unprecedented” search in the River Wyre.

At a press conference on Wednesday, police revealed that Bulley had “personal vulnerabilities” that placed her in the highest risk category, meaning she was at risk of serious harm.

Later that day the force released details of Bulley’s struggles with menopause and alcohol, saying they wanted to “avoid any further speculation”.

Fahy said there was a wider question of public interest about an investigation such as this being conducted with such a high level of press and social media coverage.

“The police need the public’s help in providing information and the public need to know if something serious has happened in their community,” he said. “But when we get to the stage where every detail is worked out, it’s a bit like a highly skilled surgeon being asked to do an operation with a huge public gallery and people scrutinizing every action.”

Lancashire Police said they will be carrying out an internal review of their investigation, led by Chief Crime Officer DCS Pauline Stables.

Speaking at the press conference on Wednesday, Fahy criticized media coverage focusing on the dress and hairstyle of Det Supt Rebecca Smith, the lead detective in the case, saying it had “created a huge amount of anger”.

“A lot of female constables came out yesterday to condemn it and say how unfair it was,” she said.

Zoe Billingham, a former chief constable, told Sky News she was “really disturbed” by the coverage focusing on what Smith was wearing and what her hair looked like.

“We’ve talked a lot about misogyny and sexism [in recent days] but one of the things that has really bothered me in the last day or two is the abuse, frankly, that the senior investigating officer herself has been exposed to,” he said.

Lancashire Police’s release of sensitive information about Bulley was itself criticized as “as sexist as it gets” on Friday.

Former victims’ commissioner Dame Vera Baird condemned the force’s “terrible” decision to release medical information about Bulley, saying it was “the biggest mistake I’ve seen in a long time”.

Leave a Comment