Police searching for Nicola Bulley have found a “key” witness who they believe was in the area on the morning of the mother-of-two’s disappearance.
The witness is a woman who was seen pushing a pram on Friday 27 January, when Ms Bulley went missing.
The woman was spotted on CCTV walking in the Lancashire village of St Michael’s on Wyre at around 8.22am.
She was again seen walking just under 20 minutes later at 8.41am.
Officers believe Ms Bulley, 45, fell into the River Wyre while she was walking her dog.
However her family and friends have claimed there is “no evidence whatsoever” behind the police’s theory.
In a statement, Lancashire Police said: “Earlier this evening as part of our search for Nicola Bulley, we put out an appeal to find a witness in St Michael’s on Wyre.
“We are pleased to say that the woman came forward very quickly and we must stress that she was very much being treated as a witness and was one of many people in St Michael’s on Friday, January 27th.”
The force added: “Our enquiries to find Nicola are extensive and will include speaking to as many members of the public as possible.
“The speculation and abuse on social media aimed at some people who are merely assisting our enquiry is totally unacceptable.
“We would urge people to remember that we are investigating the disappearance of Nicola, and the priority is Nicola and her family. We want to find her and provide answers to her family.”
What were missing dog walker’s movements before she disappeared?
Crucial 10-minute window
Ms Bulley was last seen walking her dog on a footpath by the River Wyre.
Police are focusing their investigation on a crucial 10-minute window when the mortgage advisor’s movements are unaccounted for between 9.10am and 9.20am.
A timeline pieced together by the force found she logged into a work conference call on Microsoft Teams at 9.01am.
Nine minutes later a witness who knows Ms Bulley said they saw her on the upper field walking her dog, Willow, which was off her lead.
This is the last confirmed sighting of her.
At 9.20am, police believe her phone was left on a bench by the river.
At 9.30am, the work conference call ended but she stayed connected – before her phone was found three minutes later on the bench by another dog walker.
‘It’s too soon for condolences’ Eyewitness report by Sky News correspondent, Katerina Vittozzi
This is a small Lancashire town in a desperate search, where no one wants to give up looking.
Nicola Bulley’s friends say it’s too soon for condolences, that the police’s theory, that Nicola fell into the river, is not one they can, as yet, accept.
Ms Bulley’s friend, Heather Gibbons, told Sky News: “As far as we are aware, there is no evidence that she is in that water.”
She praised the police for the “incredible” amount of resources devoted to the river, but added: “This is not adding up and it’s not adding up on a huge, huge scale, which makes you think, ‘well then, there has to still be hope’, because we’re missing something, something is not making sense.”
Now Mrs Bulley’s friends and family have established a community search hub in the village tennis club, where people can come, take a map of the local area and try and help.
Lal Kilpatrick, a search volunteer who has known the missing mother-of-two for 20 years, said she wanted to help during what she described as a “distressing time for the family”.
Meanwhile strangers are also offering their support, including Lee Ward, who has never met Ms Bulley or her family but felt compelled to help.
“I saw it on the news, it eats you up inside thinking what they are going through,” Mr Ward told Sky News.
For Nicola Bulley’s friends and family, there are still far more questions than answers right now.
The police investigation has been extensive, its covered 15km of rivers all the way down to the sea but it’s still here, the fields where Nicola was last seen, and where her phone and dog were found, that continues to draw people, all with the same question – what happened that morning?
‘Too soon for condolences’
Friends and family told Sky News correspondent Katerina Vittozzi it was “too soon for condolences”, and say they are not ready to accept the police’s theory that Ms Bulley fell into the river.
They have now set up a community search hub at the village tennis club where people are invited to take a map of the local area and try and help.
Specialists and divers from HM Coastguard, mountain rescue and Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service have been deployed to assist the search, in addition to sniffer dogs, drones and police helicopters.
A team of detectives have been working to analyse telephone communication, house to house enquiries, CCTV, dashcam footage and other digital enquiries, police said.
Nicola’s girls are ‘really missing her’, friend reveals
Signs and placards displayed in the streets to find missing mum-of-two
‘It’s a very, very odd one’
Forensics search and rescue expert Peter Faulding told Sky News he has been left “mystified” by the “strange” circumstances of Ms Bulley’s disappearance.
Mr Faulding, who has worked on hundreds of cases, said the tidal nature of the River Wye has presented difficulties for police during the search operation.
But he added: “I mean, the phone being found, a bench; normally, if someone would trip, they would have their phone in their hand.
“You know, the dog being dry; going after dogs, this is why a lot of people drown. They jump after their dogs.
“But the dog was found dry, so it clearly didn’t go in the river, and that’s what gets my suspicion about this case is it’s a very, very odd one.”