Underwater expert Peter Faulding's role in the search for missing Nicola Bulley has been examined in the review of how police handled the investigation.

The College of Policing report said Lancashire Police felt some of his behaviour and activities "caused challenges" to the search for Nicola, who vanished while walking her dog in St Michael's on Wyre, Lancashire, on January 27.

The body of Ms Bulley, 45, a mother-of-two, was found in the River Wyre on February 19, about a mile from where she disappeared. An inquest concluded her death was accidental, that she fell into the river on the day she disappeared and died almost immediately in the cold water.

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Mr Faulding, leader of underwater search experts Specialist Group International (SGI), told media that police had "low-tech" diving equipment, unlikely to be able to find a body. Ms Bulley's family became aware of this report and efforts were made to contact SGI to help the search and to ask police to get SGI involved.

But police investigators were advised that SGI did not have any better equipment that could not be secured by the force.

However, communication by Ms Bulley's family friend to police expressed a "strong message that refusal to use Mr Faulding and SGI" would result in a "negative press release to the media". The report said Lancashire Constabulary felt it was placed in an unenviable situation, which would lead to a widespread negative perception that the force was not using every opportunity to locate Ms Bulley, the report said.

Lancashire Constabulary felt that this would undermine public trust and confidence and, therefore, subsequently agreed to allow the use of SGI to support them in their search efforts and contacted Mr Faulding, who offered his services free of charge. A chief inspector then met Mr Faulding to offer "suitable, robust advice about the information he is passing to the media - unhelpful to the investigation, the family and wider community".

The review said Lancashire Police appeared to present him with a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) not to discuss the search with anyone outside the investigation. But SGI responded that no "official" NDA had been discussed or signed and, in fact, Mr Faulding and his team felt "ambushed" by the press and had no support from police so assumed his involvement with the media was "within the terms of engagement".

Mr Faulding told the report authors that he was not advised or supported with any media guidance by Lancashire Constabulary, that he did not receive any instruction not to engage with press. The report said Mr Faulding had also informed the Bulley family that he thought he had identified a body deposition site (the location or believed location site of a deceased body).

As part of the review, Lancashire Constabulary suggested this had caused unwarranted distress and false alarm and resulted in the diversion of police resources to the family to remedy the situation. The report continues: "It is the view of Lancashire Constabulary that Mr Faulding had a significant impact on the investigation and public confidence through his activities and his engagement with the media.

"The review team considers that some of his actions created a more challenging environment for the investigation team. His public statements often contradicted the investigative and operational approach, leading to confusion for the public and reducing the family's trust in the investigation and search operation."

Mr Faulding and SGI have been contacted for comment.

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