Nicola Bulley ‘TikTok detectives’ visit a UK village


LONDON – The shocking disappearance of a 45-year-old woman has captivated Britain, sparked a national debate about trust in police and sent a wave of crime tourism to the small English village where she was last seen walking her dog three weeks ago shin.

Nicola Bulley, a mortgage adviser, dropped her two young daughters off at school on the morning of January 27 and took her Springer Spaniel for a walk by the river. She emailed her employer, texted a friend about a play date and logged into a Microsoft Teams work call – with the camera and microphone off – just after 9 a.m. The meeting ended at 9.30, and a few minutes later that’s what paserby found her. an abandoned phone on a bench, still connected to the conference call. The dog was running nearby, the harness on the ground.

Lancashire Police say they have no evidence a third party was involved. Their “main working hypothesis” is that Bulley fell into the nearby river. Divers found nothing in the immediate area and moved their operation downstream.

It is hard to overstate the level of public interest in the case, which comes as polls show women’s confidence in the police is at an all-time low, following a series of police scandals involving misconduct and violence, including murder a 33 year old. Sarah Everard by a serving police officer.

While the search for Bulley continues, amateur sleuths are picking up the case, which the police described as “TikTokers playing private detectives.” Social media influencers have been tramping up and down the riverside looking for clues, posting selfies from the scene and offering theories about a glove and a red van and an abandoned house across the river.

“We are absorbing false information, allegations and rumours, which is taking away from our work,” said Detective Supt. Rebecca Smith complained at a news conference on Wednesday.

Police suggested they were trying to dispel “further speculation or misunderstanding” when they released a statement that Bulley was classified as a high-risk missing person because she had “some significant problems with alcohol that arose from her constant struggles with the. menopause.”

That statement sparked a backlash, with critics saying the release of that personal information was an egregious breach of privacy.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told broadcasters on Friday that he was “concerned about private information being exposed to the public.”

Zoe Billingham, who worked as head of the police watchdog team for 12 years, told the Washington Post that it was “very rare” to release personal details in a case like this – and that the decision bias.

“It is completely inexplicable that, 20 days after an investigation, they chose to release this very personal information,” she said, adding. “Shall we talk about a man who looks the same? ‘Poor old Barney hit the bottle, because he’s got erectile dysfunction’ … it would be unthinkable for the police to put that out.”

Billingham said the biggest concern could be a “dangerous precedent,” where others won’t come forward with personal data for fear of it being in the public domain.

She also said she was surprised by the wave of crime tourists that descended on the village of St Michael on Wyre.

While police rely on the public for tips, scams and private footage of doorbells, she said, “Yes Don’t come across community phenomena saying, ‘Right, let’s pack up the iPhone and be there and start doing investigations and posting on TikTok.'”

Michael Vincent, leader of Wyre Council, told the Post that his village of 600 people has started to feel like a “theme park where people come and play detective.”

Some of the visitors just want to post selfies at the bench where Bulley’s phone was found, he said. But “some have gone too far, making people feel unsafe.”

He said residents have reported people looking into the windows of their homes and “people asking for door handles to get in.” Someone “tried to remove the panel from a pumping station, probably to see if it’s there.” In response to a theory on social media that she was in a separate abandoned house, the property was “inundated”.

“People want to take the police job,” he said. “Hopefully this is a one-off, it’s all very disappointing.”

Police said they had issued dispersal orders and warnings to people making videos for social media near private property. An analysis by the BBC found that, although there was interest in the case on several social media sites, TikTok was particularly popular. The BBC said that as of Friday, videos discussing the case and using Bulley’s name as a hashtag had more than 270 million views.

One social media influencer, Dan Duffy, was arrested and fined for breaching public order laws after joining the search for Bulley. In one clip he posted on social media, he said he was “looking for the abandoned house” and “was in people’s back gardens at night with torches.” His TikTok account was removed.

Bulley’s partner, Paul Ansell, told a Channel 5 broadcaster that he was 100 per cent sure she had not fallen into the river – and that a local person might be to blame. He said “there has to be a way to find out what happened, there has to be. You can’t, you can’t walk your dog down a river and disappear into thin air.”

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