The final account of Nicola Bulley’s final hours was revealed yesterday on the first day of her inquest.
Minute-by-minute maps reveal in minute detail how what should have been an ordinary school trip and morning walk with the dog turned into a mysterious disappearance that would grip the nation.
Mrs Bulley was still alive when she fell into the River Wyre – but the icy waters in January this year could have killed her in just 10 seconds, the inquest into her death also heard yesterday.
The mother-of-two had not been drinking and died from drowning with no signs of foul play or attack by a third party, Lancashire senior coroner Dr James Adeley was told.
As her partner Paul Ansell, 44, and parents Dot and Ernie wipe away tears, a pathologist ruled out foul play and said she was alive when she entered the water.
Two witnesses said at the hearing that they independently heard a short scream coming from the direction of the river about the time she was last seen. But the inquest was told that a police timeline suggested it was likely she was already in the water at the time. Mrs Bulley disappeared after dropping off her daughters, aged six and nine, at St Michael’s-on-Wyre, after which she made her usual dog walk.
A little after 9:30 a.m., a local businesswoman found Willow “dizzy” and loose by the river.
Her phone, still connected to her morning Teams call, was found on a nearby bench. Hundreds of volunteers participated in a police investigation, but with no sign of her body, amateur sleuths took to social media to spread bizarre theories.
Police were criticized after revealing she had “significant problems with alcohol” brought on by her struggles with menopause.
Her body was found on February 19 and identified by dental records. During the inquest at County Hall in Preston, police diver PC Matthew Thackray said the riverbank at the point where Ms Bulley is believed to have disappeared had a steep ‘cliff edge’ in the ‘freezing’ water.
Maps and PowerPoint slides presented to the inquest by police also show the bewilderment of villagers in St Michael’s-on-Wyre as they tried to identify the owner of the stray spaniel that was found along the riverbank on January 27 found, as well as her partner’s increasing panic.
Here’s a timeline of that morning’s events surrounding Mrs. Bulley’s disappearance and tragic death.
Mother-of-two Nicola Bulley, 45, disappeared on January 27 while walking her dog in Lancashire
Workers from Specialist Group International, a privately owned underwater search and recovery company, on the River Wyre on Feb. 6
Paul Ansell, Mrs Bulley’s partner for 12 years, wiped away tears when he heard evidence of her death today
8:26 am Nicola Bulley is pictured on the family’s Ring doorbell camera leaving her home in Inskip, Lancashire, along with her two daughters and the family’s dog, Willow, in her black Mercedes SUV.
The 3.4 mile journey to St Michael’s Primary School takes approximately eight minutes.
8:33:49 am – dog walker Richard Fife passes a man dressed in black as he enters Allotment Lane in St Michael’s-on-Wyre on his way to the riverside path.
8:34:33 am – mobile phone analysis places Ms Bulley’s handset near St Michael’s Primary School, while her Mercedes can also be seen there on a police dashcam.
8:34:33 AM – 8:41:38 AM – witnesses and CCTV place Mrs. Bulley at the school as she drops off her daughters; Mr Fife is in the fields beside the river with his labrador
8:41 am approx – witness David Hall passes Mrs Bulley walking north over the road bridge over the Wyre towards the start of the riverside path, confirmed by her mobile phone records.
Nicola was last seen on the morning of Friday, January 27, when she was seen walking her dog
8:42:50 am – Mobile phone analysis shows that Mrs. Bulley begins to walk along the path along the river in the direction of the bank.
8:46:30 am – Mrs Bulley’s iPhone ‘pings’ four times near the bank next to a bend in the river to within 7.6 meters
8:47 am approx – Mr Fife leaves the ‘lower’ field and passes Mrs Bulley who is walking in the other direction with her phone in front of her.
8:48:50 am – The handset location data shows Mrs Bulley’s phone in the ‘bottom’ field.
8:52:53 am – Still in the ‘bottom’ field, Mrs. Bulley receives a WhatsApp message from her sister Louise Cunningham about plans for an upcoming spa day.
8:53:36 am – Mrs. Bulley sends an email to her boss, Ben Pociacho of Exclusive Mortgages, about a mortgage client – she is still in the bottom field.
8:54:27 am – Mr Fife is caught on CCTV walking back to Allotment Lane and is surprised to see the black-clad man still standing on the corner off the main road.
8:55 am approx – Claire Chesham, another dog-walking school-run mother, reaches the ‘lower’ field and sees Mrs Bulley approaching the hedge separating it from the ‘upper’ field with Willow.
8:55:16 am – telephone records place Mrs. Bulley’s handset in the southeast corner of the ‘lower’ field by the river.
8:59:38 am – Now in the ‘top’ field, Mrs. Bulley sends a Facebook message to another mother, Lucie Musella, to arrange a children’s play day for the following afternoon.
The message simply consists of a suggested time and a smiley emoji.
9.01:05 am – Ms. Bulley joins a work Teams call on her phone and remains muted throughout the call.
9.05-9.10 am approx – Mrs. Chesham sees Mrs. Bulley walking in a loop around the ‘top’ field. It is the last confirmed sighting of her life as Mrs. Chesham returns along the riverside path.
9:18:01 am and 9:18:11 am – Volume and side buttons are used on Ms. Bulley’s phone.
9.18:41 am – Mrs. Bulley receives a WhatsApp message about the spa day from ‘Tosh’ – her sister, Louise Cunningham.
It says ‘The £22 difference I’ll cover for the dress Mum gave you for Christmas which you didn’t keep and I had x.’
She didn’t get blue ticks to say her sister had read the message.
9:20:36 am – Mrs Chesham is pictured on CCTV leaving the top of Allotment Lane towards Blackpool Road.
9.20:39-9.20:42 — three other handset pings place Ms. Bulley around the couch where Willow would later be found. Unusually it is the last handset data for ten minutes.
9:22 am – heart rate data collected by Mrs Bulley’s Fitbit peaks around 100 BPM.
9:23:05 am – Penny Fletcher is caught on CCTV at her home leaving Wyreside Caravan Park at the bottom of Allotment Lane and walking through a patch of undergrowth downstream from the bank.
9:33 a.m. approx – Mrs. Fletcher finds a spaniel – who turns out to be Willow – by the river with an iPhone with the screen lit up on the bench.
9:35:08 am – Keith Barlow has been caught on CCTV walking his dog in Rowanwater caravan park next to the top pitch; he later sees and speaks to Mrs. Fletcher at the bank.
9:36am – 9:55am – in the garden of her house on Allotment Lane, Helen O’Neill hears a scream coming from the direction of the riverside path.
9:45:32 am – after tying Willow to the couch with string and trying to memorize the number on her collar, Penny Fletcher is caught on CCTV walking back to the caravan park. She calls the number but wrote it down wrong, so she tries a local vet, unsuccessfully, then calls friend Susan Jones to relay a message to her husband Roger – who walks his own dog – about the mysterious spaniel .
9.50 am approx – Veronica Claesen of the village tennis club near the primary school hears a scream coming from the direction of the path along the river.
10:04 am – Mrs. Fletcher calls her daughter-in-law Anne-Marie in the hope of identifying the spaniel’s owner.
10.10 am approx – Roger Jones reaches the couch and finds Willow tied to it along with the phone. He calls his wife who informs him of what Penny Fletcher told her about finding the stray dog, and continues his own walk.
10.20 am approx – On Allotment Lane, Norma Kershaw sees Susan Jones coming to help her husband.
10.30 am approx – Mr. and Mrs. Jones plus Mrs. Kershaw gather on the couch.
10.32:13 am – The number of location readings on Ms. Bulley’s mobile phone is increasing, indicating that the device is being handled and moved.
10.40 am approx – The group puts Willow on her harness and walks with her back to the caravan park
10:40:26 am – Paul Ansell, who works from home, makes the first of six calls in seven minutes to his partner’s cell phone, but there is no answer.
10:47:30 am – Mr and Mrs Jones plus Mrs Kershaw are pictured returning to Allotment Lane with Willow.
10:48:06 am – Mr. Ansell sends a WhatsApp message saying “Are you lost?” to Mrs. Bulley.
10.50 am approx – Anne-Marie Fletcher recognizes Willow as Mrs Bulley’s dog and calls her children’s school.
10:54:15 am – St Michael’s Primary School staff call Mr Ansell.
10:56 am approx – Ringing the doorbell from the family home in Inskip shows Mr Ansell on his way to St Michael’s.
10:57:25 am — Mr. Ansell calls Ann-Marie Fletcher and says — according to Mrs. Jones’s evidence — “She’s having a hard time.”
11:00:39 am – Mr. Ansell dials 999 to report his wife missing.
11:10 a.m. approx – Mr. Ansell reaches the couch where he meets Anne-Marie Fletcher, plus Mr. and Mrs. Jones who have Willow and his partner’s phone.