Nicola Bulley's neighbour describes partner Paul's 'miracle' strength

Missing Nicola Bulley’s next-door neighbour speaks out saying partner Paul’s strength is ‘nothing short of a miracle’ as he ‘does not want to break down on camera in front of his children’

  • Witness says they saw one the two men in the same area the following morning
  • Detectives said to have subsequently visited St Michael’s Garage for CCTV
  • The public is told to look out for a bunch of keys which could belong to Nicola 

The next-door neighbour of missing mother of two Nicola Bulley has spoken out for about her disappearance to praise Nikki’s partner Paul, saying his strength is ‘nothing short of a miracle’.

Neighbour and close friend Charlotte Drake has echoed her family’s insistence that Ms Bulley is not in the river Wyre and asked the public to look out for her car keys.

Ms Bulley was last seen at around 9.10am on January 27 as she walked her dog Willow along the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, close to her home in Inskip.

She has been missing for more than two weeks, but her partner Paul, sister Louise and the rest of her friends and family have campaigned tirelessly to bring the 45-year-old mortgage adviser home.

It comes as it emerged today a witness reportedly told police they saw two men ‘acting suspiciously’ outside a church close to where Nicola Bulley went missing – a day before her disappearance.

Charlotte Drake (left) lives next door to Nicola Bulley (right) and says she would ‘never leave’ her family or dog behind

Mortgage advisor Nicola Bulley, 45, went missing along the River Wyre on January 27 (Pictured with partner Paul Ansell)

Experts have identified to MailOnline a number of possibilities and clues that could help case

The witness reportedly also saw one of the men the morning of Nicola’s disappearance.

Writing on social media, Ms Drake said: ‘The strength this man [Paul] has shown over the past 14 days is nothing short of a miracle. 

‘When many would be sat at home waiting for news he is using the media exactly as it should be used, to share the facts, highlight the lack of evidence and spread the word far and wide, so that he can hopefully reach someone that knows something.’

She added: ‘Backing Pauly Ansell all the way to bring Nicola Jane Bulley back to him and their beautiful girls. We are all behind you, from our little street.’

In a previous post, she encouraged the public to remember ‘this lovely person who has gone missing is a real person.’

She said: ‘As a neighbour/friend I can categorically say she is the type of person that would drop everything to help any single one of us going through this. So please, let’s give her that effort in return.’

Speaking to the Metro, she added that Paul is using his strength because he does ‘not want to break down on camera in front of his children’, who he is trying to protect from the worst of his worry. 

Her comments came as Paul revealed his partner’s car keys remain missing and asked the public to look out for them.

They are ‘a Mercedes key with a couple of Mercedes keyrings on it, one black and one blue, a round wooden key ring with paw prints on it, and a couple of normal keys.’

‘They were definitely on Nikki at the time, a huge bunch of keys, a Mercedes keyring with paw prints which she would have put in her coat pocket,’ he told Metro.

Speaking to the paper, Charlotte also described the relationship Nicola had with her beloved dog and family.

She said: ‘Even in our small road Willow wouldn’t go to the end of the drive without Nikki. There is no way Willow would ever leave her side, and vice versa.

‘Nikki would never, ever have left Willow, the girls and Paul. Ever.’

The mother-of-two, 45, vanished while walking her dog along their regular route in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, shortly after taking her two daughters to school.

The mortgage adviser’s phone was found on a bench overlooking the river, still connected to a work call. Willow’s harness was found nearby. 

Police have been working under the hypothesis that she got into trouble in the River Wyre and drowned, but despite meticulously combing the water, dive teams have found no trace of Ms Bulley.

Lancashire Police has come under fire from search experts and ex-police officers for appearing to rule out third-party involvement too quickly – but in a statement released on Friday the force said they are keeping ‘an open mind’ about her disappearance. 

A witness has now told police they saw two men acting suspiciously close to the route of her dog walk 24 hours before she went missing, The Sun reports.

They say they then saw one the two men in the same area on the morning she went missing, amid increasing signs that police are beginning to treat the disappearance as a crime.

Police officers continue to patrol the riverside on Sunday, February 12

Ms Bulley, 45, disappeared without a trace at around 9.20am as she walked her dog Willow

Paul Ansell, right, pictured with his partner Nicola Bulley – who vanished two weeks ago while walking her dog near the River Wyre in Lancashire

A missing person appeal poster for Nicola Bulley on a bridge crossing the River Wyre on Saturday

Detectives are understood to have subsequently visited St Michael’s Garage on Thursday to request CCTV from the time of the witness’ report.

READ MORE: ‘I was at home drinking tea when Nikki vanished’: Nicola Bulley’s devastated partner reveals minute-by-minute his movements in hours when missing mother-of-two disappeared 

A member of staff at the garage said: ‘Two smartly dressed officers came in following up, a man and a woman. They wanted the CCTV from the day before Nicola vanished and to take statements of any activity we had seen from that day.

‘These officers were different to the ones in uniform, they seemed very assertive.’

They added: ‘I know who the witness is and he has already called police about what he saw. But he said he wanted to make sure they were chasing this up so I asked the officers about it and they said they were following it up.’

The witness is said to have  seen the men by the local church and by a bridge close to Ms Bulley’s route on January 26.

They reportedly saw the one of the individuals near a bridge at a footpath used regularly by the missing mother on the morning she disappeared.

The garage worker continued: ‘Whether them collecting the CCTV from the same day is connected, I don’t know.’

It comes as the police search for Ms Bulley continues.

Police have also admitted that she could have left the area via a path not covered by CCTV.

Three blind-spots have been identified in the area surrounding where Ms Bulley went missing.

Friends and family have this weekend left yellow ribbons with handwritten messages on a bridge close to where she disappeared.

Ribbons with messages including ‘We need you home Nicola’, ‘praying for your safe return’ and ‘I love you’ have been tied to a footbridge over the River Wyre.

A large poster with a photograph of Ms Bulley has also been attached to the railings.

It comes as the search has entered the 17th day.

Partner Paul Ansell, who Ms Bulley had planned to marry, spoke in a programme on Channel 5 on Friday, asking anyone with information to come forward, saying he believes something must have happened to his partner ‘in the village’ of St Michael’s on Wyre.

Mr Ansell said he is ‘100 percent’ sure that the mortgage advisor, 45, did not fall in the River Wyre in Lancashire during an interview filmed for ‘Vanished: Where is Nicola Bulley?’. 

He said the river path, which Ms Bulley walked often, was ‘about as well known a walk to us as you could possibly do’, adding: ‘On the very odd occasion when you see somebody that you don’t know, they stand out like a sore thumb.

‘So whatever has happened, in my eyes, has to be somebody who knows the local area. And the fact that nothing’s been seen or heard, I just truly believe that it’s something in the village.’

Discussing the impact of Ms Bulley’s disappearance on his two daughters, Mr Ansell said: ‘Any parent knows that all you want to do this is make everything better for your children’. He added: ‘But I can’t do that’.

Yellow ribbons with messages of hope written on them, are tied to a bridge over the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre

One of the yellow ribbons placed on the bridge today reads: ‘Praying for your safe return’

He is instead focussing on keeping the worst of his worry at bay when he is with his daughters and attempts to distract them as much as possible. 

He said: ‘The only thing that I can do is tell them that everybody is looking for mummy. The best people like in the world are looking for mummy, just to give them that you know that that level of hope that they can understand that everything that can be done to find mummy is being done. 

‘And I just have to hope that that is enough, you know, for them, to sort of put them at rest at that particular moment before the questions come again.’

He added: ‘I can’t put those girls to bed again with no answers.’ 

Lancashire Police were invited to appear on the programme but declined to do so.

Aside from the river itself, there are only two other exits from the area, one of which is covered by CCTV.

Friends of the missing mother have claimed that CCTV covering the other exit, close to mobile home site Rowanwater, is not working.

This camera would have covered the fields to the south of where Ms Bulley was last seen.

After reviewing other CCTV footage, police are confident that Nicola did not leave the field near the river via Rowanwater itself.

Another blind-spot is a riverside path leading from the Wyreside Farm Caravan Park through to the A586, or Garstang Road.

Officers have been attempting to trace dashcam footage from 700 drivers who passed along this route around the time of her disappearance. 

It comes after Peter Faulding, founder of the Specialist Group International team that assisted police in the river search, this week admitted it was his belief that she is not in the water – raising the prospect of a ‘third party’ involvement in the disappearance.

A member of the North West Police Underwater Search and Marine Unit, during the search of the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, for missing woman Nicola Bulley

Nicola’s mobile phone was found on this bench with Willow’s lead and harness on the ground

Meanwhile, former Metropolitan Police chief superintendent Philip Flower said ‘neither the facts nor the evidence’ support the official police hypothesis.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, he said: ‘Ms Bulley was a good swimmer. The water wasn’t fast flowing. There are no slip-marks on the riverbank.

‘And there doesn’t appear to be anything that would indicate she could have hit her head and become unconscious.

‘The police cannot afford to make such unsupported judgments in this day and age when, quite rightly, they are constantly under more rigorous scrutiny.

‘Mistakes inevitably erode trust in the vital contract between citizens who, through their taxes, fund those officers of the law to protect them.’ 

In a statement released on Friday, police said they are keeping an ‘open mind’ about her disappearance, and in a marked softening of their language said they still believe the missing mother ‘may have’ fallen into the river. 

But ex-Metropolitan Police Officer Mark Williams-Thomas said on the programme he was ‘really struggling’ with Lancashire Police’s attitude towards the search and its media policy.

He said: ‘We shouldn’t be here. The police should be here in a Watchdog-style programme appealing for evidence.’

Nicola is white, 5ft 3ins tall, with light brown shoulder-length hair. She speaks with an Essex accent.

She was last seen wearing a long, knee-length black quilted gilet with a hood.

She had a black Engelbert Strauss coat underneath which had long sleeves and came to her waist.

She was wearing tight black jeans and had long green walking socks tucked into her jeans. She was wearing size 5 ankle-length green wellington boots from Next. 

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