Peter Faulding, whose private dive-team undertook a free three-day search of the River Wyre for missing woman Nicola Bulley two weeks ago, has defended its failure to make a breakthrough, now that her body has been found close to where she was last seen.
Lancashire Police had continued to insist throughout the three-week operation that the 45-year-old mortgage advisor had probably fallen into the river when she went missing on 27 January, although its own divers and those from Faulding’s Dorking-based Specialist Group International (SGI) had found no evidence of that. Her body was eventually spotted by passers-by and recovered on 19 February.
“The SGI underwater search team was tasked with searching the river upstream of the weir in the non-tidal part of the river, past the bench where Nicola’s phone was found and a mile upstream past this point,” said Faulding, who made his statement before the body had been formally identified.
“For three days, using high-frequency side-scan sonar, we thoroughly searched the riverbed and can categorically confirm that Nicola was not lying on the riverbed on the days that we searched.”
He said that his team had searched the stretch of river where the body was found for four hours on the first day, concentrating further upstream after that. “The police underwater search teams and land search teams were searching for three full weeks and were also unable to find Nicola,” he said.
Faulding pointed out that the body had been found not in the river but in reeds on the bank “which was not part of our remit, as the sidescan sonar does not penetrate reeds above or below the water. A riverbank and wade search would be the only way to search this area, and we were not involved or tasked with that search.”
Referring to “unfair criticism” of himself and his team, Fauldling insisted that his previous promise that he would find Bulley if she was still in the river still stood. “I did not volunteer my services, my equipment or my team for any limelight or publicity,” he said. “I simply wanted to lend extra resources to help a family in despair, and this was supported by Lancashire Police.
“However, there has been unprecedented media and public interest in this case and at every turn, I was asked for an update on my own search, which I provided with only best intentions. Support for my assistance and my actions have been overwhelmingly positive, although I am aware that some negativity has been [directed] towards myself and my team.
“Unfortunately there are few police underwater search teams left. SGI is the recognised underwater search team for Essex, Surrey, Sussex, Kent, Hampshire and Thames Valley police, who we have worked closely alongside for many years.”
Faulding’s memoir What Lies Beneath: My Life As A Forensic Search And Rescue Expert was published by Pan Macmillan on 2 February.
Update: SGI suspension
Peter Faulding’s company Specialist Group International (SGI) has been suspended from the UK National Crime Agency’s list of experts pending an internal review, according to a report in The Times on 24 February.
The NCA, which fights serious and organised crime, runs an Expert Advisers Database detailing those specialists who can be asked to assist with investigations. The time-frame for the review is unknown.
Also on Divernet: Private Dive-Team Joins Bulley River Search
Based on his previous bold statements the criticism is very fair.
“My belief is she is not in the river at all.”
“Bodies don’t tend to move too far. If there were flood waters it would be different. But it wasn’t a raging torrent. The river was searched extremely thoroughly by the highly competent divers.”
“I believe the phone and harness are a decoy.”
“I’m looking at Ordnance Survey maps of the surrounding areas to search for possible deposition sites,” Mr Faulding said. He is planning to search the land around the village next week after saying there was no evidence to refute the possibility that Ms Bulley was kidnapped.
Of all the footage I’ve seen not once did I see police scouring alongside the river. Given Peter searched the river bed in the stretch the police tasked him and Given the police searched downstream along the river edge especially where there’s reeds even I know that a body can get trapped in those obvious areas. Given the police had on the day she disappeared and let’s face it, she can’t have gone far on a couple of hours but police divers couldn’t find her?why? She obviously was there, Given all the searching I can certainly understand Peters bold statement, I reckon everyone was thinking much the same before Peter joined the search. Easy to try to deflect blame from the police who IMHO didn’t do a thorough search or search along the reeds. I do a very similar walk to Nicola along the river. But put me off now. I’ve no faith in the police bring back the Bobby of old they did thier jobs well.