The Daily Telegraph

Missing dog walker’s phone ‘may be a decoy’

Failure to find any trace of Nicola Bulley suggests third-party involvemen­t, says search specialist

- By Will Bolton and Blathnaid Corless

NICOLA BULLEY’S mobile phone, which was found on a bench near where she disappeare­d, could be a decoy, the head of a specialist search team said.

Despite spending two days scouring the Wyre in Lancashire, Specialist Group Internatio­nal (SGI), which was contacted by Ms Bulley’s family to help with the search, has found no trace of the missing mother of two.

Peter Faulding, the organisati­on’s founder, said he believed that if his team could not find any sign of the 45-year-old there could have been “third-party involvemen­t”. Ms Bulley vanished on the morning of Jan 27 while walking her dog, Willow, by the river in the village of St Michael’s on Wyre.

Mr Faulding and his team yesterday searched upstream and in the immediate vicinity of where Ms Bulley was thought to have fallen into the water.

He said that in his 20 years of search experience, he had never seen such an “unusual” case and was “baffled” by what had happened.

Mr Faulding said: “If Nicola is not in that stretch of the river, my view is there could be a third-party involvemen­t and this [phone] was a decoy placed by the river.”

He compared the case with that of 18-year-old Laura Torn who was murdered in 2003 near the village of Misson in Nottingham­shire. “[On that occasion] a shoe was found by the river and she was eventually found in a haystack miles away,” Mr Faulding explained.

Ms Torn was last seen in Owston Ferry, north Lincolnshi­re, shortly after leaving a pub in the early hours of April 27 2003.

Police spent 10 days scouring a fivemile stretch of the River Trent after finding a black shoe belonging to her on the banks of the water.

Officers, acting on informatio­n received from an Owston Ferry resident, switched their search from the Trent and its banks to the countrysid­e.

Pub landlord Guy Beckett, then 32, later confessed to the murder and was sentenced to a minimum term of 16 years.

At a press conference last night Supt Sally Riley, of Lancashire Constabula­ry, said Mr Faulding was not included in “all the investigat­ion detail” and knew nothing more than an ordinary member of the public.

She said: “It’s kind of SGI to offer their services, genuinely, but we already have our own experts who are discountin­g anything else we have not already done.”

A team of 40 detectives is working on approximat­ely 500 lines of inquiry, Supt Riley added. Detectives have also analysed data from Ms Bulley’s Fitbit smart watch, she said.

More than 700 drivers who travelled through the village around the time she went missing are also being traced.

Supt Riley said: “This is normal in a missing person inquiry and does not indicate that there is any suspicious element to this story.

“The inquiry team remains fully open-minded to any informatio­n that may indicate where Nicola is or what happened to her.”

However, it is still the force’s theory that Ms Bulley fell into the Wyre, Supt Riley said. She also warned amateur investigat­ors against breaking into derelict buildings and barns along the river to look for Ms Bulley and causing “distress” to her family.

Posts on social media appeared to show so-called urban explorers “investigat­ing” properties near where she disappeare­d.

Supt Riley said: “There are some properties along the riverside which are empty or derelict, and whilst it may be well intentione­d that people think that that would be a line of inquiry, I would ask them to desist from doing that and in some cases it may be criminal if they’re breaking in and causing damage or committing burglary.”

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