Missing mother-of-two Nicola Bulley died from drowning and was alive when she entered the water, the inquest into her death heard.
Ms. Bulley, 45, underwent a post-mortem investigation by Home Office pathologist Alison Armour, who concluded that drowning was the cause of death because there was no “third party” engaged in her passing. Water was found in Ms. Bulley’s stomach and lungs, she added.
On January 27, Ms. Bulley of St. Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, went missing after dropping her daughters, ages six and nine, off at school and going for her routine dog walk along the River Wyre.
Her phone was discovered on a bench next to the river, still in a Teams call for work. On February 19, her body was discovered in the River Wyre about a mile away from the bench.
During the two-day inquest hearing in Preston’s County Hall, Ms. Bulley’s partner, Paul Ansell, her sister, Louise Cunningham, and her parents, Ernest and Dot Bulley, stood in the audience and watched as Ms. Armour was called as the first witness to testify.
Following the post-mortem examination, Dr. James Adeley, Senior Coroner for Lancashire, requested Ms. Armour to summarise her findings and judgement.
Ms Armour said: “I conclude the cause of death as drowning. The lungs themselves showed classical features we see in drownings.
“In my opinion Nicola Bulley was alive when she entered the water.”
Water was found in the lungs, according to Ms. Armour, proving that ingesting the liquid was a “active process” and indicating that Ms. Bulley was likely still alive when she entered the river.
She claimed there was no natural sickness or bleeding in the brain, only normal therapeutic amounts of medication in her body, and the small amount of alcohol was compatible with this being the outcome of her body’s natural disintegration.
The inquiry was informed that Ms. Bulley’s body had several bruises, but they had no bearing on how she died.
Dr Adeley asked the witness: “Is there any evidence of third-party involvement playing any part in her death?”
Ms Armour replied: “No, there was not.”
When Ms. Bulley went missing, a massive police search operation with hundreds of local search volunteers and intense media and public attention was launched. Ms. Bulley is a mortgage adviser who was born in the area of Chelmsford but now resides in Inskip. She was instantly labelled a “high risk” missing person.
In the midst of a paranoid social media frenzy that sent hordes of tourists and content creators to the location, her family also hired private underwater search specialists.
Police had warned the public against making wild assumptions about the disappearance and had insisted from the start that there were no suspicious circumstances. They also suggested that Ms. Bulley might have fallen into the river because of a “problem” with her springer spaniel puppy, Willow.
Family and friends of Ms. Bulley stated that they did not accept the police “theory” and urged people to carry on looking.
Her 12-year partner, Paul Ansell, appealed for assistance in TV interviews by expressing that their daughters wanted their mother to return home.
As the days went by and online rumours persisted, Lancashire Police stated that Ms. Bulley had experienced alcoholism and perimenopause.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak were questioned about the police strategy and the force under investigation after this sparked outrage for revealing her personal information.
The coroner, Mr. Adeley, addressed the online debate around Ms. Bulley’s death earlier, just before the hearing got underway.
He said the inquest would deal with only “proportionate evidence from reliable sources and not to explore all the theories by those who contributed to social media”.
The coroner added: “At the centre of this inquest are two children who have lost their mother, a partner, and parents who have lost a daughter.”
Mr. Adeley issued a warning, stating that anyone with even the “tiniest idea” of disrupting the hearing would be dealt with “immediately.”
The inquest hearing is still ongoing.