Missing mother-of-two Nicola Bulley died from drowning and was alive when she entered the water, the inquest into her death has heard.

Proceedings have begun into the death of the 45-year-old and it has already revealed she was not under the influence of alcohol and there is “no evidence” she was assaulted or harmed.

Ms Bulley was last seen taking her usual dog walk along the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, on January 27 having dropped off her two children at school.

A huge search effort and media storm followed in the days after her disappearance.

The coroners’ court heard from neighbours who had seen Ms Bulley earlier on January 27 and also water experts who explained the effect of winter waters on the body.

In the hearing on Monday it was also said that her dog had been seen in a “giddy” state when spotted by another walker while the mother had been due to join friends for drinks.

Police had been criticised during the investigation for sharing details of Ms Bulley’s problems with alcohol and with perimenopause. It came out in the inquest that she had not been drinking prior to the events that led to her death.

The force has previously said Ms Bulley may have gone into the water due to an “issue” with her springer spaniel dog, Willow, and encouraged the public not to speculate. Despite this, the community was forced to contend with DIY investigations from members of the public beyond what the police were attempting.

Her body was found on February 19 and the identification of her body was made by dental records and confirmed by Lancashire Constabulary the day after.

Police during their investigation


Dr James Adeley, senior coroner for Lancashire, 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.”

The inquest is expected to take two days with Ms Bulley’s partner and sister set to give evidence.

This is what we have found out so far from her inquest.

Nicola Bulley died after entering the River Wyre in January

(PA Media)

The cause of death

Home Office pathologist Alison 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.”

Police underwater search specialist Matthew Thackray told the inquest that Ms Bulley fell into the River Wyre before floating downstream.

He said: “There is a large vertical slope from the bench and into the water.

“On the day there was a steady flow downstream. The river was 4C, so almost freezing, and if she fell in the muscles would probably seize making it difficult to swim properly.”

He estimated she would have floated at a “metre a second” downstream.

Police returned in April to the site


Where was Nicola Bulley’s body found?

Her body was found around 1.5 kilometres downstream of St Michael’s on Wyre.

Dog was seen ‘giddy’ by the side of the river

Penny Fletcher, who runs a nearby campsite, told the inquest: “I saw a springer spaniel loose, it was near the bench and going right towards the river where it drops down very steeply.

“I wouldn’t say it was acting chaotic at all, it was a bit giddy, yes.”

Ms Fletcher found the phone, as well as a dog harness, and tied Willow to the bench.

She later found out it was Ms Bulley’s dog and heard that she had gone missing.

Nicola Bulley died aged 45

(PA Media)

Water experts describe cold shock process

An underwater search expert said Ms Bulley’s body may have sunk under the surface of the river after she fell in.

Dr Lorna Dennison Wilkins told the inquest: “Nikki might have had some buoyancy in her clothing which would have dispelled.

“Once that happened, she would have lost that buoyancy and her body would have sunk under the surface, was my assessment.”

Cold water expert Dr Patrick Morgan added that Ms Bulley may have only been able to hold her breath for “one or two seconds at best” in the river.

“(After falling in) the heart rate goes excessively high, the blood pressure surges excessively high,” he said.

“The heart pumps no blood, and the brain switches off. The potential conscious time here quoted are optimistic… it is potentially shorter.

“On the occasion that the individual has taken that initial gasp on the surface of the water and then gone below, the duration would be 10 seconds that you could hold your breath, and very likely one or two seconds at best.”

A missing poster for Nicola Bulley

(PA Wire)

Professor Michael Tipton said there would have been a “fairly rapid incapacitation” after Nicola Bulley fell into the River Wyre.

He said: “In my opinion, given the nature of the likely entry into the water, I would suspect Nikki had a gasp response under the water, initiating the drowning process.

“On the balance of probability there was a fairly rapid incapacitation due to the cold shock.”

It was also heard it could have been an estimated “20 to 30 seconds” before she lost consciousness.

He added: “We estimate the temperature would have been around 3 to 5C (in the River Wyre), so there would be a particularly powerful cold-shock response.

“For somebody of Nicola’s size, it would have taken one or two breaths in of water to be a lethal dose.”

(PA Media)

Residents report nothing out of the ordinary in Ms Bulley’s appearance

Residents who saw Ms Bulley on the morning of her disappearance also spoke at the hearing.

Kay Kiernan, a receptionist, told the inquest she spoke to Ms Bulley about her dog Willow while dropping off her children at school at just after 8.30am.

She said: “She was not happy, but who is on a Friday-morning school run? She wasn’t sad, just how I normally knew her.”

Ms Kiernan went on: “There was nothing of concern.”

Lucie Musella, a fellow mother with children at the same school as Ms Bulley’s daughters, said that she  received a text message at 8.59am on January 27 from Ms Bulley on Facebook Messenger.

The two exchanged details about organising a playdate for their children, with Ms Bulley sending a time confirmation with a smiley face emoji just minutes before she was last sighted alive.

The inquest heard that a group of school mothers had also organised a social event for Saturday, January 28, with Ms Bulley “planning on coming for one or two”.

Flowers with a message adorn a footbridge over the River Wyre

(Getty Images)

Nicola Bulley had not been drinking

Nicola Bulley had not been drinking before her death, a Home Office pathologist said.

Dr James Adeley, senior coroner for Lancashire, asked Dr Alison Armour, who was giving evidence at an inquest at County Hall in Preston: “At the time of her death she had no alcohol in her bloodstream?”

Dr Armour replied: “That’s my opinion.”

Was Nicola Bulley able to swim?

The coroner has said Ms Bulley was a “holiday swimmer”. It has previously been established the water flow on January 27 was a metre per second.

Therefore, Ms Dennison Wilkins said it would have been “highly likely to be almost impossible to swim against the current”. The coroner said Ms Bulley would also be making this decision while trying to hold her breathe and not drown.

(Danny Lawson/PA Wire)

What medication was Nicola Bulley taking?

The inquest heard that levels of beta blocker propranolol and painkiller paracetamol were found in her system. No further details have been given. Ms Bulley’s GP is set to speak on Tuesday at the inquest.

A scream was heard from the river

A mother at Ms Bulley’s children’s school has told the court she was in her back garden at 9.35am when she heard a scream coming from the direction of the river.

Helen O’Neill, whose garden backs on to Allotment Lane, said it was “quick, a high to low pitch and over in seconds”. It “was not alarming”, said the nurse, because she is used to hearing the sounds of children playing in the nearby school, although not usually at that time.

What items were recovered along with Nicola Bulley’s body?

Nicola Bulley’s Fitbit watch and car keys were recovered along with her body, a senior police officer who investigated her disappearance said.

DC Keith Greenhalgh told an inquest into her death: “Nicola Bulley’s iPhone was recovered from a bench.

“The phone was intact and there was no sign that it had been in the water.”

Speaking about her Fitbit watch, he went on: “My initial thoughts were that the device lost power on February 4, 2023.”

He said there were no further steps recorded beyond 9.30am on January 27.

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