Nicola Bulley police WRONG to share ‘highly sensitive’ information including alcohol issues
Police investigating Nicola Bulley's disappearance were wrong to release details about her alcohol issues, a damning report has found.
Tragically, the mum-of-two's body was found in the river on February 19 three weeks after she disappeared.
A 143-page report into Lancashire Police's handling of the case has now been released.
The review, led by the College of Policing, criticised the force for "insufficient focus" and errors of judgement.
In its 17 recommendations, the report found the disclosure of personal details about Nicola's life was "avoidable and unnecessary".
But the review said they should have instead released non-reportable background information to accredited journalists.
The role of a self-styled underwater search expert was also slammed in the report.
Although police were wary of using Mr Faulding, they feared a negative response so gave permission for him to carry out a search.
As a result, The Sun and other publications quoted him as he was presented as a legitimate expert helping the search.
But Mr Faulding informed Nicola's family he had identified a "body deposition site", which police later said caused unwarranted distress and false alarm.
The report said officers felt some of his behaviour and activities "caused challenges to the investigation".
In response, Mr Faulding today released an astonishing, seven-page statement claiming he found Nicola's body but was ignored by police.
Chief Constable Andy Marsh, who leads the College of Policing, said: "Throughout our work we have had Nicola's family and friends in our thoughts.
"The purpose of the review was not to attribute blame but identify areas of learning for the constabulary and wider policing.
"The decision to not call the investigation a critical incident, despite it meeting the national definition, set the tone within the constabulary and led to several challenges.
"The most notable of these was the way the constabulary released personal information about Nicola which was avoidable and unnecessary.
"While we have not shied away from criticism, there are also many areas of Lancashire Constabulary's response that should be commended, including an exemplary investigation and a well-conducted search.
"At the heart of the investigation was Nicola. I am left in no doubt that she and her family were foremost in the minds of officers and staff throughout the search."
Nicola's disappearance gripped the nation after it was revealed her mobile was found on a bench by the river still connected to a work conference call.
Her pet springer spaniel Willow was also discovered - but there was no trace still of the mum-of-two.
The case saw the tiny village of St Michael’s on Wyre flooded with amateur sleuths all desperate to solve the mystery.
Front gardens were trampled on by social media ghouls and family and friends targeted as rumours reached fever pitch.
An inquest in the summer ruled Nicola's death was an accident after she fell in the water and suffered "cold water shock".
The verdict brought an end to speculation that surrounded the mortgage adviser's mysterious disappearance.
Lancashire Police found themselves under a huge amount of pressure as they launched a high risk missing person's case for Nicola just 27 minutes after the first call was received.
The report found initial investigation was well handled but officers lost control of the public narrative at an early stage.
This "information vacuum" was caused by senior officers failing to brief accredited reporters because of a breakdown in trust, which in turn led to unchecked speculation, it added.
The report said: "The investigating team had background information on Nicola that was not publicly available.
"The way in which this information was eventually communicated to the public proved to be the most controversial aspect of the investigation.
"The failure to brief the mainstream media on a non-reportable basis on this information, or to adequately fill the information vacuum, allowed speculation to run unchecked.
"This led to an extraordinary increase in media and public interest in the case, which was fuelled by several newsworthy elements.
"These included the apparent mystery of why Nicola had disappeared, leaving behind her dog and leaving her mobile phone still connected to a Microsoft Teams call."
Dr Iain Raphael, who led the review, said it was "vital" this fractured relationship between the media and police was rebuilt.
He said without this, "speculation can run unchecked and result in an extraordinary explosion of media and public interest in the case".
Dr Raphael also noted the police must "recognise the impact social media now has".
Deputy Chief Constable Sacha Hatchett from Lancashire Police said: "That media demand was at times overwhelming, and with the benefit of hindsight, there are undoubtedly things we would do differently in the future. Indeed, we have already started to do so.
"There is no doubt that the impact of social media, as experienced in this case, is an area of concern for policing generally which requires more focus in the future.
"It had a detrimental effect on the family, the investigation, and our staff along with influencing wider media reporting."