Nicola Bulley drowned after accidentally falling into river, inquest concludes
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Ms Bulley, 45, vanished after dropping off her daughters, six and nine, at school, and taking her usual dog walk along the River Wyre in St Michael’s, Lancashire, on January 27.
Dr James Adeley, senior coroner for Lancashire, concluding the inquest into her death at County Hall, Preston, on Tuesday, expressed his condolences to the family, who were present throughout the hearing.
He recorded her death as accidental as she fell into the river and suffered “cold water shock”, and said there was “no evidence” to suggest suicide.
Dr Adeley said: “Excluding a couple of comments over the Christmas period when she was acting out of character and were treated as throw away comments, there was no indication of any intention to take her own life.
“Her behaviour in the week before hear death was back to normal, she had restarted her HRT therapy, stopped drinking some time before, was making plans for play dates and spa days with several people, was becoming increasingly successful at her new career as a mortgage broker and behaved entirely normally during her parents visit of the night before and with Paul Ansell on the morning of her death.”
He added: “The circumstances found after her death would also be extremely unusual for suicide where Nikki left Willow, a dog to who she was devoted and was described as a third child, alone on the river bank.
“Nikki would also had to have had sufficient knowledge of cold water shock to realise as to how rapidly a death may occur as otherwise she may be spotted and saved; that she chose to do so at the main intersection of paths where she could be interrupted at any point would be unusual and to leave her car keys in her pocket with the car in the school playground where her children, to whom she was devoted, would see it would be cruel.
“For these and many other reasons I discount a conclusion of suicide as there is no evidence to support this conclusion.
“There was also no natural disease that contributed to Nikki’s death. The remaining conclusion is that of accidental death.”
Ms Bulley’s mobile phone, still connected to a work Teams call, was found on a bench overlooking the water.
Her body was found in the river about a mile from the bench on February 19.
Sophie Cartwright KC, the lawyer representing Ms Bulley’s family, earlier said in final submissions to the coroner that the evidence clearly pointed to her going into the River Wyre accidentally and her drowning quickly in the cold water.
Her tearful partner, Paul Ansell, and sister, Louise Cunningham, told the hearing of concerns about Ms Bulley’s struggle with the menopause and increase in alcohol intake in the month before her death.
A mental health nurse had been called to the family home on January 10 this year to speak to Ms Bulley.
But they dismissed this as a “blip”, saying she was in good spirits, making plans for the future and looking forward to life when she vanished.
Ms Cunningham described her as “my big sister”, and said she was enjoying restarting her career as a mortgage adviser while juggling her work and home life as a busy mother.
She added that her sister “had a blip” over the last Christmas period when her drinking increased but this stopped in January and was soon “back to the normal Nikki”.
And she said Ms Bulley treated her dog Willow as a “third child” and there was “no way” she would have intentionally left her unattended.
Mr Ansell, Ms Bulley’s partner of 12 years, said: “The blip over the Christmas period happened but in January she was back to herself, looking forward to the future and everything was on the up.
“She had a good day the day before (she went missing), came home full of beans, excited with work, with the meetings she had and plans for the year.”
When the coroner asked Mr Ansell whether Ms Bulley had any suicidal thoughts, he replied: “There were a couple of throwaway comments during the blip period but nothing that gave me any concern.”
Breaking down in tears, he added: “She was an incredible mum.”