A new documentary looks back at the police investigation following the disappearance of Nicola Bulley last year. We detail what we know about the mortgage advisor’s final minutes before tragedy struck
It was just like other Friday morning in Saint Michael’s on Wyre, Lancs, when Nicola Bulley went missing on January 27, 2023
She had dropped her young daughters at school before taking her dog Willow for a walk, part of her regular routine. But just minutes later, Nicola vanished without trace. Ahead of a new Channel 5 documentary, we piece together the mortgage advisor’s last moments before her heartbreaking death and the subsequent search that moved the nation.
After dropping her children off and heading with Willow for their regular walk by the river, Nicola sent a text to one of her friends at 8.59am to arrange a playdate for her girls, then aged nine and six. She joined a work Teams meeting two minutes later and was last spotted walking Willow from a distance by a dog walker she knew at 9.10am. At 9.18am, her phone showed the volume was adjusted on her work call.
At 9.33am, the 45-year-old’s phone was found on a bench close to the river by a passer by, with Willow running back and forth. The springer spaniel’s harness was found on the ground and Nicola was still logged into her work call despite the virtual meeting having ended at 9.30am.
Lancashire Police / SWNS)
Another dog walker came along who recognised Willow as belonging to Nicola and the girls’ school was called. They in turn contacted her partner Paul Ansell, who was at home. “It’s like your world just drops out cause you know something weird has happened,” he said.
Calling 999, Paul rushed to the scene in his car and Lancashire Police went onto launch a huge operation, sending divers into the water and drones up into the air, with fingertip searches of the area taking place on land.
Despite no obvious signs Nicola had fallen into the river, police ruled out all other possibilities. Three and a half weeks later they were proved right when the mum-of-two’s body was sighted in the water a mile from where she went missing.
At an inquest into Nicola’s death in June 2023, a key piece of evidence was the FitBit activity tracker she was wearing on her wrist. At 9.22am, it revealed a huge spike in her heart rate, which can be associated with cold water shock.
Ruling Nicola’s death accidental, the coroner suggested that shock would have lead to the mum falling unconscious within 30 seconds. What will never be known is how or why she entered the water.
“We will never forget Nikki, how could we?” said Paul. “She was the centre of our world. She was the one who made our lives so special and nothing will cast a shadow over that.”
Watch Nicola Bulley: The Disappearance That Gripped Britain tonight at 9pm on Channel 5