Nicola Bulley: My experience of retracing tragic mum's final footsteps

I went to St Michael's twice during the time Nicola Bulley was missing.
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The first time was the week's anniversary of her going missing.

Travelling into St Michael's from Inskip - presumably along the same roads Nicola had taken on the school run, I didn't know really where I was going, or what to expect on that cold, grey, rainy morning.

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The first clue that I was getting close was when I spotted a police 4x4 parked up on the entrance to the village.

Then I drove past the school and car park where Nicola had left her car - all of these places people had talked about, now they were infront of me.

At the T-junction near the school I could could see dozens of people were lined up for hundreds of metres along Garstang Road, holding placards for passing motorists, appealing for dash cam footage or any information that would shine a light into her disappearance.

I parked on the village hall car park, and a lady packing the boot of her car told me I was 'doing a good job'. She had mistaken me for one of the PTFA mums out that morning.

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I felt embarrassed. And very aware of the fact I could be seen as a media 'vulture' descending on the village.

As a report is released on the investigation into the disappearance of Nicola Bulley we take a look back at the events surrounding the mystery that unfolded in January 2023. You can watch 'The Disappearance of Nicola Bulley' documentary on Tuesday November 21 at 8.20pm on Shots! - Freeview channel 276, or alternatively you can watch it on demand.

TV crews

As I walked up, film crews and other reporters were everywhere. Outside broadcast vans were rammed in the church car park with their huge satellites. It looked so incongruous against the beautiful, Medieval church.

Knowing I was there to spread the word and do my job, I somewhat nervously approached a few of the women holding the placards. Honestly, it was a mixed response. Some just didn't want to talk to me at all, and I get it.

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They were friends - even family - of Nicola, and they were upset and probably already sick at that point of media intrusion.

I kept reiterating that I was from the local paper, I was local myself, and we would stay the distance unlike some of the bigger boys currently decamped there.

With all of the media attention surrounding the case, I have to admit, I was curious to walk the route Nicola had taken, and I wanted to see the bench where all the interest was focused on.

It all seemed so close when I walked over the metal bridge, past the church, and turned right onto the riverside path, headed for the bench. Just a few hundred metres.

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I didn't know where I was going at all, but the path was full of people, so I just kept walking.

Police everywhere

Police seemed to be everywhere. Driving past on the road, PCSOs in groups patrolling the path, others in black on the opposite side of the river bank, police divers huddled in conversation.

"Are they annoyed I’m here?” I wondered to myself.

And you can't help but be on the look out for clues - incase you're the one who sees something significant.

What did strike me was that the path wasn't as secluded as I'd thought. On the left hand side were the backs of people's gardens, a little private road, and green static caravans could easily be seen through the bare branches of trees.

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I got to a five bar gate with a police tape on it and a missing poster for Nicola attached. The tape was flopping down to one side - it had recently been taken down from when the bench had ben cordoned off.

As I walked on, slightly to the left, there it was, the kissing gate and the bench beyond it, to the right, under a tree. Eerie.


When I got there, a live Sky broadcast was taking place on the muddy riverbank, spot lights had been set up, people were being interviewed with microphones, camera men were everywhere, there were cables all over the ground.

Absolutely surreal for me. I've been out on big jobs before in my career, but probably not one that had captured the world's attention in such a way as this.

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I approached a couple of people stood to one side, to ask if they were local and what they made of it all. I was told to be quiet by a Sky TV person. It seemed they were totally running the show.

Then I had a walk further up the path, towards the small brick building, where the path loops round and comes back on itself. It was all very exposed.

All the time I was looking at the area, wondering. The bank looked quite steep to me - steeper than what was being made out online.

Then I had a phonecall from my news editor, asking me to leave, get in my car and head towards a car park in Skippool because there was a lot of activity going on with police and divers.

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I didn't even know where Skipool was, but before I had chance to look it up, I was called off again. False alarm.

The second visit

The second time I went to St Michael's was on February 9 - the second week anniversary of Nicola going missing.

That day was bright and fine, and quiet. So much quieter than the first time.

Only the day before the area had been packed with people clammering to see Nicola's partner Paul Ansell speaking with diver Peter Faulding.

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Now there were still TV crews around, but not as many, and really not many locals about at all. I'd been sent to speak to people about how things were going, and I wondered who on earth there was to speak to.

I approached a woman near the bench, and it turned out she was a Channel 4 journalist. Awkward.

I later went to buy a drink from the local petrol station and was met with suspicion. It transpired that other journalists had been in, asking questions.

There was a definite weariness in the village at that point. I think people knew there wasn’t going to be a happy ending, and they were fed up of the circus that had unfolded.

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I retraced Nicola's steps again around the fields, spotting that the windows in the brick hut had been vandalised in the past week.

At that time, internet conspiracy theories were in full flight and that week we'd heard about people travelling from across the country to rummage through people's outhouses, confront locals, and even cast aspersions about a former judges house on the other side of the river.

What judges house I wondered? I hadn't spotted it at all on my last visit. And frankly, I still didn't see it on my second trip.

What I did notice was a man in a tracksuit and trainers apparently doing exactly what I was doing.

I decided to ask him what it was all about and it turned out that he was a HGV driver from Manchester who had spent the past three days there, looking for clues. A nice bloke, but crazy times.

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