Detective Superintedent Rebecca Smith says she has "never seen anything like it" in her 29 years of policing
Police have taken aim at TikTok-ers 'playing private detective' amid a frenzy of interest in Nicola Bulley's disappearance.
Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith, of Lancashire Police, said officers are being “inundated with false information, accusations and rumours” about the mother-of-two's disappearance, as she criticised social media commentators “distracting” investigators.
Speaking at a press conference at Lancashire Police headquarters on Wednesday, the senior investigating officer said she had "never seen anything like it" in her 29 years in policing.
Det Sup Smith said the phenomenon has been "significantly distracting," adding: "Some of it's been quite shocking, and hurtful for the family."
The detective addressed “persistent myths” about the case as she issued a fresh plea for the family's privacy to be respected.
Nicola vanished while walking her springer spaniel, Willow, on Friday, January 27 in St Michael’s on Wyre in Lancashire.
Her phone was found on a bench by the bank of the River Wyre, still logged into a work call.
The force's criticism comes after reports of people travelling for miles to 'take selfies' on the bench where the missing 45-year-old mortgage adviser's phone was found.The local community has also reported an inundation of people travelling to the area to film and take pictures.
Police were also forced to appeal to the public not to break into empty properties in the area, in a previous public statement.
Appearing to take aim at social media users using their platforms to probe the case, Det Sup Smith said: "Whilst other people may speculate and spread rumours, there is no evidence whatsoever or information - and there has been a vast amount reviewed, I can assure you, in the last almost three weeks - to suggest third-party involvement or Nicola leaving that field."
She said her "main working hypothesis" is that Nicola went into the River Wyre, but detectives remained open to all lines of inquiry.
Addressing social media speculation about a glove found near the site where Nicola disappeared, she said police had it in their possession, and had established it did not belong to the missing mum, and was not relevant to the investigation.
She used the speculation about the glove to criticise people using social media to promote their theories about the case.
"You'll also be aware that TikTok-ers have been playing their own private detectives, and have been in the area."
Det Sup Smith continued: "The whole community wants to find Nicola, and wants to give the family the answers that they deserve."
She added: "The family are the most important part of this, and that is my priority, and the priority of the investigation team, and always has (been), and we can't be (distracted) from that.
She said the case had been "thoroughly" investigated from the outset and officers were doing everything they could provide answers to Nicola's two daughters "who need to know where their mummy is."
"Whilst we have shared information today about specific individual vulnerabilities, specific to this case and Nicola, I would ask you to respect the family's privacy in respect of those things."
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Backing her remarks, Assistant Chief Constable Peter Lawson added that detectives had felt compelled to share such broad details of their investigation, due to the amount of unhelpful speculation swirling around the case. He told the press conference, their candour was intended "to counter some of the... ill-informed speculation and conjecture that has at times distracted the investigation from what ought to be its priorities. That has been distracting."
"It is potentially damaging to the investigation, the community of St Michael's, and, most importantly, Nicola's family."
He thanked the public for their support, as he urged anyone with relevant information to come forward.
Det Sup Smith also warned people not to raise the alarm if they noticed Nicola appeared to be 'online' on social media or other accounts in coming days.
Detectives would be accessing her accounts as part of the investigation, which could cause them to appear active, she said, as she urged people not to contact police reporting the apparent activity.
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