The Daily Telegraph
Residents stand vigil at the roadside in effort to unearth nugget of vital information
Ever since Nicola Bulley vanished without trace from her small Lancashire village, residents have taken it in turns to hold a roadside vigil holding aloft placards appealing for help to solve her disappearance.
Those driving through St Michael’s on Wyre could not have failed to have been moved by the dedication of her neighbours, whose signs urged anyone with information to contact police.
Many of them were pensioners wrapped up tightly against the cold. Others were women who count themselves friends of the missing mother of two, having chatted with her at the nearby primary school gates as they waited to pick up their children from class. That sense of community has transformed the local tennis club into a makeshift headquarters for residents planning what they can do next to help in the search for Ms Bulley, 45.
Each day, her friends and neighbours set off from the club to conduct their own determined searches in the hope of uncovering a clue that will end the anguish of her distraught partner, Paul Ansell, and their two children.
Signs, placards and posters are made and then distributed to those willing to weather the cold to urge motorists to check dashcam footage or think back to the morning of Friday, Jan 27, in case they hold a nugget of vital information.
Emma White, a friend of Ms Bulley, said: “The community has been amazing all week. We’ve created a hub at the tennis club where people can get involved.”
She said the roadside vigil, which was very prominent yesterday, a week after Ms Bulley disappeared, was decided upon as the most effective way to try to jog anyone’s memory.
“Could there be someone who hasn’t seen the media?,” Ms White asked, explaining that the opportunity to solicit the slightest bit of information could not be ignored.
In fact, each police appeal to trace potential witnesses – including a woman in the red coat – resulted in those people contacting detectives within hours, probably because villagers shared details of the investigations over Whatsapp, as well as the garden fence.
The small village on the Fylde – which has a population in the hundreds rather than thousands – is centred around the striking church of St Michael’s, founded in 640 and has a nave and chancel dating back to the 14th century. The Post Office only opens on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The arrival of Prince Harry in 2015 to open a refurbished village hall following severe floods remains a
‘We’ve created a hub at the tennis club where people can get involved’
‘The level of support is out of this world. We don’t have anything else, do we?’
talking point among villagers. These last few days have forged memories of a very different kind. With the Lancashire force’s helicopter and drones overhead, teams of divers scouring the riverbeds, and police officers checking outbuildings and gardens, the village has become gripped with a palpable feeling of tension.
Perhaps inevitably, those police cordons and fingertip searches along the paths by the winding river Wyre meant some local women became concerned there was a violent predator on the loose, something the police have been eager to deny.
Even Ms Bulley’s family asked officers whether there was a chance she had been kidnapped because it seemed inconceivable she would not return to her children, let alone abandon her dog or phone.
Christine Bowman, a 67-year-old retired teacher, who identified herself as the dogwalker wearing the red coat, later told how the missing persons inquiry meant women had become more cautious.
She told The Mirror: “It has made local women fearful. If they have husbands or partners, they have been taking the dogs out instead.” During yesterday’s press conference, Supt Sally Riley singled out “community intelligence” as having proven invaluable during the investigation.
“I would like to thank the friends and community which have come out in force in the search for Nicola,” she said, although she urged residents helping in the searches to stay safe, particularly if out at night or looking for Ms Bulley along river paths.
She hinted that some people had even taken it upon themselves to conduct their own river searches in boats.
“Please only do so if you have experience of that,” she said.
She also conceded that her officers’ “physical presence” in the village also served to allay fears among residents.
When Mr Ansell gave an emotional television interview about his partner yesterday, he too was at pains to thank the close-knit community whose support had been “out of this world”.
“It’s amazing. It is,” he said, momentarily appearing to lose his composure.
“That’s the only thing we can take. That level of support is out of this world. It gives us a great amount of comfort knowing that is going on. We don’t have anything else, do we?”