No enforcement action over release of Nicola Bulley’s personal information by Lancashire Police

A police force will not face any action over the disclosure of personal information relating to missing mum Nicola Bulley, one inquiry has found.

Lancashire Police came under heavy criticism after the 45-year-old’s body was pulled from the River Wyre in Lancashire in February, more than three weeks after she was last seen.

MPs and campaign groups voiced their disapproval after police chose to put elements of her private life into the public domain during the search.

But Lancashire Police said the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) had now concluded its investigation and informed police it would not be taking any enforcement action following the release of information on 15 February.

The force could still be criticised by another independent review however which will published its conclusions into the information release in the autumn.

Announcing its conclusions on Tuesday, ICO’s deputy commissioner of regulatory policy Emily Keaney said: “This was an important piece of work around a high-profile case.

“We wanted to reassure the public that there are rules in place to protect how personal information is used and shared, and we wanted to be clear that while police can disclose information to protect the public and investigate crime, they would need to be able to demonstrate such disclosure was necessary and proportionate.”

Ms Bulley went missing on 27 January while walking her dog along the River Wyre after dropping her daughters at school.

Her dog was found shortly after, alongside her phone which was still connected to a conference call.

Her disappearance sparked a huge search operation and intense media and public interest.

Her body was found in the river 23 days after she went missing, around a mile from the bench on 19 February.

Ms Keaney added: “We have now spoken with Lancashire Police to better understand the steps they took before releasing information.

“We heard in those conversations the challenging nature of considering whether and how to share personal information during fast-paced, important cases.

“Based on our conversations with Lancashire Police, we don’t consider this case requires enforcement action.

“We’ll be able to provide further details around this decision following the inquest into Nicola Bulley’s death.”

Nicola Bulley, 45, from Inskip, Lancashire, was last seen on the morning of January 27 Credit: Lancashire Police/PA

Meanwhile Lancashire Police may face action from the College of Policing over the disclosure of information after it was announced another independent review will investigate the issue.

Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for the county, Andrew Snowden, said the review - being conducted by the College of Policing into the force's handling of the case was under way - with findings and recommendations due to be published in the autumn.

The review, he said, will focus on three main areas.

  • The operational response to the high-risk missing person investigation.

  • The communication and engagement with the press and media, public and family.

  • Decision making surrounding the disclosure of sensitive personal information.

Its findings will provide insight into the effectiveness of the police response during the missing person investigation.

It will also decide if the decision making of Lancashire Constabulary was reasonable and proportionate.

St Michael's on Wyre where Nicola Bulley went missing Credit: ITV News

Another separate investigation, by police watchdog the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), has also said it will now take action against an officer who had contact with Ms Bulley before her disappearance.

It did however identify two areas of learning for the police officer related to recording information on police systems and the activation of body-worn video.

The watchdog said: “Our investigation, which concluded on April 4, focused on the actions and decisions of the police officer who attended Ms Bulley’s address as part of a multi-agency team.

“The team comprised of a police officer and health professionals who were responding to a concern for her wellbeing, and the IOPC investigation examined whether the police response was in accordance with policy, guidance and training.

“After a careful review and analysis of all the evidence, we identified two areas of learning for Lancashire Constabulary in respect of updating its guidance documents for multi-agency vehicles, to ensure all police officers working in this role understand what is expected of them, as well as the provision of guidance for officers more widely when dealing with similar situations.

“We also identified two areas of learning for the officer, which relate to recording information on police systems and activation of body-worn video.”

Ms Bulley went missing while walking her dog in St Michael’s on Wyre after dropping her daughters, aged six and nine, at school Credit: Family handout/PA

Police and Crime Commissioner Andrew Snowden said: “First and foremost my thoughts remain with Nicola's family and friends who are, understandably, continuing to come to terms with their loss under an ongoing media spotlight.

"Whilst the police investigation has concluded, and the inquest will take place in due course, it is only right that we should examine Lancashire Police's handling of this tragic case, which has been a cause for public concern, through an externally conducted independent review. 

"This review will follow the facts and seek input from relevant operational and subject matter experts in reaching its findings.

"It will also seek to identify good and effective practice, and provide recommendations for wider learning to police forces nationally.

"It's important we understand what worked so that high profile cases can be best investigated and communicated under such spotlight and scrutiny. I am confident that the Constabulary is fully engaging in the review process."

ACC Iain Raphael, Director of Operational Standards at the College of Policing said: "The College is working at pace to conduct a thorough review of the investigation and decision making of Lancashire Constabulary in relation to this tragic case.

“We recognise the impact this work will have on Nicola Bulley’s family and friends who are going through some of the most difficult times imaginable. Our thoughts remain with them as our work continues.

“The review will follow the facts and seek input from relevant operational and subject matter experts to help capture any learning for policing in Lancashire and the wider service.  We will present our findings to the PCC later this year.”

The report and recommendations from the review are set to be made public in Autumn 2023.